Flu Sweeps the Nation

Influenza hospitalization rates among elderly peak first in western states

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Nationwide flu hospitalizations among older US adults peak first in western states such as California, Utah and Nevada and last of all in eastern New England states like New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine.

The finding arrives from a recent study by Tufts University of Boston and may help healthcare providers prepare and adjust for flu outbreaks among this vulnerable population.

According to senior author Elena Naumova, PhD, professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, the analysis helped researchers develop a model that will better predict flu-outbreak peaks, allowing public health officials and hospitals to better prepare and reduce the number of patients who might experience more serious flu complications.

The study determined that flu peaked in every state within a four week span, despite the distance separating the coasts. The nationwide average of flu hospitalizations in the elderly peaked around the third week of January.

The elderly and young children are most at risk of contracting the flu and developing serious complications from the illness.

From 1991 to 2004, researchers identified more than 248,000 hospitalization records related to flu. Using dynamic mapping to track and visualize data from 48 states and Washington, DC, researchers charted flu-related hospitalizations among the elderly for each of the 13 influenza seasons. Of the 9.7 million hospitalizations among those 65 and older that occurred each year in the study, 1.03 million (10.5 percent) were attributable to flu and pneumonia.

In other flu-related news, researchers are looking at antibodies created by the H1N1 (swine) flu virus, which may lead to a universal flu vaccine guarding against a number of strains of the illness.

Researchers isolated antibody genes from white blood cells (those that protect against infection), and found five antibodies that bind a number of flu strains, including the Spanish flu of 1918 and a variant of the avian flu. Two of the antibodies protected against all of the flu strains in mice.

The ongoing antibody study marks "the Holy Grail for flu-vaccine research," according to Patrick Wilson, one of the study authors.

About 5 percent to 20 percent of Americans contract the flu every year, which kills about 23,600 patients annually.

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Review Date: 
January 16, 2011
Last Updated:
October 8, 2012