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Colds and flu

03 May 2019

Do hospitals have flu's spread under control?

According to Swiss researchers, the spread of flu in hospitals is very difficult to control because many people 'shed' the influenza virus without showing any symptoms.

Many hospital workers and patients spread the flu before they show any symptoms, a new study says.

The bottom line: Current flu infection control measures in hospitals may be inadequate, the Swiss researchers say.

No symptoms

"Our findings suggest that influenza infection in acute care is common and a significant proportion of individuals appear to shed influenza virus without harbouring any symptoms, making the spread of flu very difficult to control even with self-diagnoses and current infection control practices," said study author Dr Stefan Kuster, of University Hospital of Zurich and the University of Zurich.

Over two consecutive flu seasons (2015-2016 and 2016-2017), the researchers followed 152 health care workers and 542 admitted patients at University Hospital. Flu tests were conducted daily.

During those flu seasons, 11% of the health care workers and 4% of the patients were diagnosed with a flu infection. Most developed flu symptoms, but two of the staff and two of the patients had no flu symptoms.

The researchers also found that 17% of 71 flu-positive swabs collected from health care workers and 8% of 38 flu-positive swabs from patients were obtained on days when they had no flu symptoms.

Vaccination not perfect

Moreover, among 14 health care workers infected with the flu, two had a positive flu test before symptoms developed.

The study was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, in Amsterdam.

"Influenza vaccination is not perfect but remains the best tool we have to protect health care workers and their patients from severe illness," Kuster said in a news release from the congress.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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