Flu-related hospitalization rates for those aged 65 or more years have hit an all-time high, at least since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began keeping track of such information in 2005.
The rate for older adults is 198.4 per 100,000 people, according to the agency. By comparison, the final hospitalization rate for the 2012–2013 flu season, the most recent season in which, as this year, the H3N2 strain of the virus was most prevalent, was 183.2 per 100,000 people. The CDC notes that increased hospitalizations and deaths are typical of seasons in which the H3N2 strain is the most common one, and that this strain hits young children and elderly people harder than it does others. Flu-related deaths average 28,909 people during H3N2-prevalent seasons and 10,648 otherwise.
The CDC recommends immediate treatment with flu antiviral medications for all hospitalized and outpatient high-risk patients, including seniors, with suspected flu—even before test results confirm suspicions. Although such drugs are most effective when given early on, they still benefit the ill when prescribed later. The CDC reiterated this advice to healthcare professionals in a Jan. 29 letter [PDF] and has prepared a flowchart to help healthcare professionals identify when it might be appropriate to begin antiviral treatment.
The agency continues to advise vaccination, particularly for those aged 65 or more years; adults and children with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease; pregnant women; and infants. Although this year's vaccine offers reduced protection against the flu, it still can reduce some flu illness and prevent flu-related hospitalizations and death, the CDC says.