HEADLINES Published September11, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Treat Flu Early in the Elderly to Shorten Hospital Stays

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Treating elderly people hospitalized with flu early with antiviral drugs can shorten their stay and help reduce the need for extended care.
(Photo : Mario Tama, Getty Images)

Elderly people who are hospitalized for the flu have a shorter stay in the hospital and a reduced risk of extended care after discharge if they are treated early with antiviral flu drugs. This finding is from a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The study is the first to look at the benefits of early antiviral treatment on preventing the need for extended care in people 65 and older who are hospitalized with the flu.

People in this age group are at high risk of serious flu complications. The CDC recommends that they be treated for flu with antiviral medications as early as possible because these drugs work best when started early. The study was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

"Flu can be extremely serious in older people, leading to hospitalization and in some cases long-term disability. This important study shows that people 65 and older should seek medical care early when they develop flu symptoms," Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of CDC's Influenza Division, said in a statement.

The study looked at patients 65 years and older who were not in assisted living and who sought medical care or who were hospitalized within two days of becoming sick and who were treated with antiviral medications early (in the first four days of illness). The researchers found that their hospital stays were substantially shorter than for people who received treatment later (after 4 days of illness). This reduction in hospital stays was seen even among those who sought care later (more than two days after they got sick), but was not as great.

Early antiviral treatment was also associated with patients being 25% to 60% less likely to need extended care after leaving the hospital. The shorter hospital stays associated with early treatment could account for the reduced risk of needing extended care after discharge because lengthy bed restriction can lead to disability, the study said. Other factors like older age, the presence of neurologic disorders, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and pneumonia at admission were also independent risk factors for extended care needs.

Between 80% and 90% of seasonal flu-related deaths have been in people 65 years and older.

This study can be read online at http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/09/01/cid.civ733

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