- This flu season is proving to be the most severe in nearly a decade, with no signs of abating any time soon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks influenza outbreaks.
- For the third straight week, 49 states have reported widespread flu activity, CDC officials said Friday, in contrast to most years when it hits different parts of the country at different times.
- Last week, 6.6% of all people visiting emergency rooms and clinics had flu-like symptoms — the highest level since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, when cases peaked at 7.7%.
At its current pace, the 2017-2018 flu season will equal or exceed the 2014-2015 flu season, when 34 million Americans got sick, 710,000 were hospitalized and roughly 56,000 died. Like then, the predominant strain is the H3N2 virus.
“At this point, we don’t know what the season is going to end up like … but it’s tracking at the same level as 2014-15,” Daniel Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza division, said in a Friday media briefing.
Particularly hard hit have been children and people in their 50s and early 60s. There have been 37 pediatric deaths this flu season, seven last week alone. But while infants and the elderly are most likely to be hospitalized, this year is seeing high admissions in the 50 to 64 age group.
“Baby boomers have higher hospitalization rates than their grandchildren right now,” Jernigan said.
The severity of this year’s flu outbreak has sent hospitals, emergency rooms, clinics and doctor’s offices scrambling to meet the demand. According to the CDC’s weekly FluView report, the rate of laboratory-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations is 41.9 per 100,000.
In California, hospitals have imported nurses from out of state, canceled surgeries and triaged flu patients through makeshift tents set up in their parking lots, according to a Los Angeles Times report earlier this month. “It’s like trying to surf a tsunami,” Brian Johnston, an emergency medicine physician at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights, Calif., told the newspaper.
While this year’s flu levels don’t add up to a pandemic, they underscore the impact that widespread influenza can have on hospitals and other providers. The CDC has created a spreadsheet-based model for hospitals called FluSurge 2.0 to estimate the number of influenza-related hospitalizations, ICU admissions, ventilator use and deaths in the event of a pandemic.
Hospitals are preparing for the worst, too, hiring full-time incident coordinators and creating pandemic preparedness committees. Simple measures like ensuring there are handwashing supplies, masks and other personal protective equipment can also help to prevent the spread of influenza and other infectious diseases. Stanford Health Care tested an ED “drive-through” several years ago to quickly evaluate patients without having them come into the facility, where they could expose other patients.
Stanford hasn’t had to use the drive-through recently, but it is in the emergency plan if needed, Colin Bucks, medical director for the office of emergency medicine at Stanford Health Care, told Healthcare Dive last year.