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Medical Care

More Senior Patients Should Be Tested for Influenza

Adults 65 and older who are hospitalized for fever or respiratory symptoms are less likely to have a flu test than younger patients – an especially sobering finding given the seriousness of this year’s flu season.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, is especially important given the fact that the highest rates of hospitalization and death linked with influenza infections are experienced by older adults.

To see if those patients were being adequately tested for influenza by their doctors when they present with symptoms, Lauren Hartman, MD of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and her colleagues conducted a study that included 1,422 adults hospitalized with symptoms of acute respiratory illness or non-localizing fever at four hospitals in Tennessee during the influenza seasons from November 2006 to April 2012.

The researchers found that overall, 28 percent of participants had provider-ordered influenza testing. Patients who were tested were younger than those not tested (an average age of 58 years versus 66 years) and more likely to have influenza-like illness (71 percent versus 49 percent).

The investigators in the study conducted laboratory tests of influenza for all patients, regardless of whether their providers ordered testing. Among the 399 patients with influenza confirmed by these laboratory tests, nearly half of patients with confirmed influenza did not have testing ordered by their providers.

“Influenza is a common cause of hospitalization in older adults, but it is often under-recognized. It is important that physicians consider influenza in hospitalized older adults because antiviral treatment is beneficial if given early, and so spread to other vulnerable patients can be prevented,” Hartman said.