…should the story below about how hospitals in California held back using medication on flu patients have been on the front page? When I pitched this story a few times, I felt like no one listened to me. It was published on page 4. I had to move on to other stories, but it still bothers me (Daily News, Feb. 24, 2013):
Among dozens of patients who died of influenza in California this season, many were denied antiviral medications within the first 48 hours after being admitted to a hospital, according to a federal report.
The national report released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “in most cases, antiviral treatment was not given as soon as recommended.”
The data was provided to the CDC by the California Department of Public Health.
Of the first 80 deaths reported in California, 74 had underlying medical conditions known to increase the risk of severe influenza. But of 47 who were hospitalized and later died, only 8 — or 17 percent — received antiviral treatment within the recommended time of 48 hours.
“Empiric antiviral treatment should be promptly initiated when influenza virus infection is suspected in hospitalized patients, despite negative results from rapid diagnostic tests,” according to the CDC report.
The report came a day before the state’s Department of Public Health released new totals in deaths due to influenza. So far, 278 people have died of flu in California compared to 106 for all of last year. Those deaths do not include those 65 and older, so a true picture is unknown. Most cases are due to the H1N1 strain, the same one that killed 203,000 worldwide in 2009.
Dr. Gil Chavez, an epidemiologist with the state public-health department, said via email Thursday that there were various reasons why a patient may not receive treatment on time, including access to medical care, timing of doctors’ visits, delayed recognition of an influenza-like illness and late identification of an influenza virus infection.
But he emphasized that caregivers should not wait for the results of tests to confirm flu is present before beginning medication.
“Hospitalized patients suspected to have influenza should be started on antiviral therapy as soon as possible, and treatment should not await confirmatory testing,” Chavez said.
The CDC report also found that flu vaccination rates were low.
Meanwhile, state officials said Friday that they are also concerned about the spread of measles. There are 15 confirmed cases of measles so far this year, compared with two last year. State officials said it was believed measles had been eliminated in 2000.
“Unfortunately, we are off to a very bad start in 2014,” Chavez said. Cases have occurred throughout California in six counties, including five in Los Angeles and three in Riverside.
Three of the 15 who were infected had traveled to the Philippines, and two traveled to India. Both are countries where measles continues to be a public-health concern. Five cases remain under investigation, and seven individuals had not been vaccinated under the personal-beliefs exemption. All were 5 months to 40 years of age, Chavez said.
In California, about 92 percent of all children have had measles vaccines by age 3. Less than 3 percent have gone unvaccinated due to parents choosing the personal-belief option, according to the public health department.