For senior patients who are hospitalized with the flu, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that early treatment reduces their hospital stay and their risk of needing extended care after they leave.
The study is the first to look at the benefits of early antiviral treatment to prevent the need for extended care in flu-hospitalized people 65 and older who also live in specialty communities.
People older than 65 are at higher risk of serious flu complications. It is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of flu-related deaths are people in this age group. People older than 65 make up more than half of flu-related hospitalizations.
The study found that community-dwelling patients who sought medical care or who were hospitalized within two days of illness onset and were treated with antiviral medications within the first four days, had hospital stays that were substantially shorter than those who received treatment later. Those who sought care more than two days after they got sick also had shorter hospital stays, but the difference was not as great.
Early treatment was also associated with patients being 25 to 60 percent less likely to need extended care after leaving the hospital. The study suggests this is due to less time being restricted to a bed, which is more likely to cause disability in this population. Independent risk factors for extended care include older age, existing neurological disorders, intensive care unit admissions, and pneumonia.
"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," Dan Jernigan, director of CDC's Influenza Division, said in a statement.