Providers should not hesitate to treat hospitalized patients suspected of having influenza with antiviral medications, given the severity of the current flu season, health officials said Friday.
“This flu season is shaping up to be a severe one, especially for older people and young children and those with underlying conditions,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a call with reporters. “Antiviral flu medicines are underutilized, but if you get them early, they can keep you out of the hospital and might even save your life.”
This season's flu epidemic became widespread in 46 states as of Jan. 3, according to the CDC. More than 5,000 hospitalizations and as many as 26 deaths are attributable to this year's virus.
The agency Friday issued a health alert urging clinicians to prescribe antiviral drugs to fight flu to those patients who may be at risk, such as young children and adults over the age of 65, a group that has seen particularly high hospitalization rates for flu this year.
The most common strain of the virus this season is H3N2, a more severe form health officials say is associated with higher rates of hospitalization and deaths.
Additionally, two-thirds of the flu viruses tested so far this year come from a mutated form of H3N2 that the current vaccine cannot effectively combat. As a result, the CDC is recommending that clinicians administer antiviral drugs to children younger than age 2, pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions.
The CDC recommends three prescription antiviral medications to be used this season: Tamiflu, Relenza and Rapivab. The agency recommends giving the medications to patients suspected of having flu without waiting for confirmation that they have the virus, since antivirals are most effective within the first 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.
Between 4,000 and 50,000 people die each year in the U.S. from influenza, according to CDC estimates.
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