Why Early Flu Treatment Matters

Early flu antiviral treatment in older patients cut hospital stay and risk of extended care

(RxWiki News) The flu can be particularly dangerous for seniors, but early treatment with one kind of medication may help.

A new study found that, among flu patients 65 and older, early treatment with flu antiviral medications may cut the length of their stay in the hospital and reduce their need for care after they leave the hospital.

“Flu can be extremely serious in older people, leading to hospitalization and in some cases long-term disability," said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a press release. "This important study shows that people 65 and older should seek medical care early when they develop flu symptoms."

According to the CDC, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of flu-related deaths in recent years have been among elderly patients, as well as 50 to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations. But according to lead study author Sandra S. Chaves, MD, of the CDC, and colleagues, this disproportionate health burden could be reduced through early treatment with antiviral flu medications, such as oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), amantadine (Symmetrel) and peramivir (Rapivab).

To reach this conclusion, Dr. Chaves and team looked at data from over 250 hospitals in 13 US states during the flu seasons from 2010 to 2013.

Patients who sought early treatment when they developed flu symptoms (within the first two days) and received antivirals within the first four days had shorter overall hospital stays than those who received treatment later. These patients also had a 25 to 60 percent reduced risk of needing care after being discharged from the hospital, Dr. Chaves and team found.

Dr. Chaves and team said all hospitalized flu patients who have a high risk of complications should receive early antiviral treatment. Flu symptoms include chills, sweats, high fever, headache, body aches, sore throat and fatigue.

This study was published Sept. 2 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Funding source and conflict of interest disclosures were not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
September 3, 2015