A review of the first 55 patients treated for flu at Duke University Hospital in Durham from November through Jan. 8 shows that only two of the 22 patients who required intensive care had been vaccinated prior to getting sick. The findings were published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
“Our observations are important because they reinforce a growing body of evidence that the influenza vaccine provides protection from severe illness requiring hospitalizations,” said the lead author, Dr. Cameron Wolfe, assistant professor of medicine at Duke.
“The public health implications are important, because not only could a potentially deadly infection be avoided with a $30 shot, but costly hospitalizations could also be reduced.”
Wolfe said this year’s flu season was marked by hospitalizations of previously healthy young people with a median age of 28.5 years. Of the 55 patients hospitalized at Duke, 48 were infected with the H1N1 virus, the so-called swine flu virus that caused the 2009 pandemic. That outbreak also hit young adults particularly hard.
Of 33 patients admitted to regular wards rather than the ICU, only 11 had been vaccinated. Most of those were chronically ill or had weakened immune systems for other reasons, or were taking medicines that weakened the vaccine’s protection.
The study also highlighted problems with the rapid test for influenza. Wolfe said 22 of the patients treated at Duke had been given a rapid influenza test that came up negative even though other tests showed they did have the flu. As a result, the patients had not received anti-viral medicines that might have eased flu symptoms if taken shortly after the onset of symptoms.
“...Our observations support previous findings that vaccination reduces the severity of disease and should be encouraged as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Wolfe said.
Karen Garloch has been writing about health and medicine for the Charlotte Observer for more than 20 years. Subjects range from AIDS to cancer to obesity. She has also written about her personal struggles with high cholesterol and getting care for aging parents.