Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 13:36 EDT

Unvaccinated Flu Patients Found To Require More Intensive Care

February 11, 2014
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

An overwhelming majority of the influenza patients who required intensive care from Duke University Hospital during this year’s flu season had not been vaccinated, the medical center reported Monday in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

According to lead author Dr. Cameron Wolfe and his colleagues, 22 of the first 55 patients treated at the academic health care facility from November 2013 through January 8, 2014 required intensive care, but only two of those 22 had gotten a flu shot. Those who had not been vaccinated were found to have the most severe cases requiring the most intensive treatment.

“Our observations are important because they reinforce a growing body of evidence that the influenza vaccine provides protection from severe illness requiring hospitalizations,” explained Dr. Wolfe, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University. “The public health implications are important, because not only could a potentially deadly infection be avoided with a $30 shot, but costly hospitalizations could also be reduced.”

The investigators said that a number of typically healthy young men and women, with an average age of 28.5 years old, were hospitalized during this flu season. Also, they found that 48 of the 55 patients hospitalized at Duke had been infected with the same H1N1 virus that caused a pandemic in 2009.

“We observed a high percentage of hospitalized patients for influenza requiring ICU level care, which appears higher than observed in our hospital during the 2009 pandemic flu season,” said co-author Dr. John W. Hollingsworth, who is an assistant professor of immunology at the North Carolina-based medical center. “It remains unclear whether the high rate of ICU admissions represents a diagnosis bias or whether the severity of illness being caused by the current H1N1 virus is higher.”

Thirty-three patients were admitted to the regular hospital ward instead of the ICU, and only eleven of those were vaccinated. The majority of those who received the flu shot were described by the study authors as having weakened immune systems, chronic illness or taking a medication that watered-down the effect of the vaccine.

“The study also echoes other studies that have highlighted problems with a rapid test for influenza,” the hospital said. “Wolfe said 22 of the patients treated at Duke University Hospital had been given a rapid influenza test that came up negative for flu, but they were actually positive when tested by other methods. As a result, they had not received anti-viral medications that might have eased flu symptoms had they been taken early.”

“Together, our observations during this influenza season support a high prevalence of the H1N1 virus affecting young adults and requiring ICU care, high false negative rates of rapid flu tests, and delay in starting antiviral treatment,” added Dr. Wolfe. “Added to the finding of very low vaccination rates among both hospitalized and ICU admissions, our observations support previous findings that vaccination reduces the severity of disease and vaccinations should be encouraged as recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online