Do hospitals have flu's spread under control?

The spread of flu is difficult to contain when not everyone shows symptoms.
The spread of flu is difficult to contain when not everyone shows 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

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