U.S. flu-related hospitalizations highest in nearly a decade: agency

Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu as his girlfriend Mayra Mora looks on in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018.

By Deena Beasley

(Reuters) – Flu activity worsened over the past week as more people headed to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, with hospitalizations at the highest in nearly 10 years, U.S. health officials said on Friday.

Sixteen children died of the flu in the week ended Jan. 27, bringing total pediatric deaths to 53 for the season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report.

Out of every 100,000 people in the general population, an estimated 51.4 have been hospitalized for the flu, surpassing the rate in the last severe season of 2014/2015, when 710,000 were hospitalized and 148 children died. Adults aged 65 or older had the most hospitalizations, followed by those aged 50 to 64, and children below 5.

The dominant strain during this flu season is an especially nasty type called influenza A (H3N2) that in seasons past had been linked with severe disease and death, especially in the elderly and young.

“So far this year the cumulative rate of hospitalization is the highest since we began tracking in this way,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on a conference call. The CDC began its current hospital flu surveillance program during the 2009-2010 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

Schuchat was named acting CDC director earlier this week after Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned from the post because of financial conflicts of interest, including purchases of tobacco and healthcare stocks while in office.

Flu is widespread in 48 states, down from 49 last week, with Oregon reporting less flu activity, the CDC said.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” Schuchat said, noting that sick people should stay home to avoid transmitting the virus to others, frequently wash hands and cover their mouth while coughing or sneezing.

The CDC official also said it was not too late to get a flu vaccine.

(Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Richard Chang)

Death toll from overheated Florida nursing home rises to 10

FILE PHOTO: The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is seen in Hollywood, north of Miami, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity/File Photo

(Reuters) – A 10th elderly patient at a Miami-area nursing home has died after she was exposed to sweltering heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, police said on Thursday.

The resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died on Wednesday, police in Hollywood, Florida, said in a statement, without giving details.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths at the center, which city officials have said continued to operate with little or no air conditioning after power was cut off by Irma, which struck the state on Sept. 10.

Julie Allison, a lawyer for the nursing home, did not respond to a request for comment. Calls to the Rehabilitation Center went unanswered.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the center’s license on Wednesday and terminated its participation in Medicaid, the federal-state healthcare program for the poor, disabled and elderly.

Medical personnel at the home had delayed calling 911 and residents were not quickly transported to an air-conditioned hospital across the street, the agency said in a statement.

Patients taken to the hospital had temperatures ranging from 107 Fahrenheit to 109.9 Fahrenheit (41.7 Celsius to 43.3 Celsius), it said. Average human body temperature is 98.6 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius).

Staff at the center also made many late entries to patients’ medical records that inaccurately depicted what had happened, the agency’s statement said.

One late entry said a patient was resting in bed with even and unlabored breathing, even though the person had already died, the statement said.

Last week, the agency ordered the center not to take new admissions and suspended it from taking part in Medicaid.

Irma was one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record and killed at least 84 people in its path across the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Marcy Nicholson)

CDC Declares National Flu Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control has officially declared a flu epidemic.

The number of states reporting high levels of flu jumped from 13 to 22 last week and the CDC says there are now flu outbreaks in every region of the country.

The CDC also said that 15 children have died as a result of this year’s flu outbreak, 6 of them in Tennessee alone.  East Tennessee Children’s Hospital has reported 442 children with flu already this year.

ABC Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said on Good Morning America that about a hundred children a year die from the flu.  He said that children, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system are at highest danger for death.

The CDC says the H3N2 subtype is the strain in 90 percent of confirmed flu cases.

Dr. Besser said that the flu season has been striking earlier during the last few years and he called it a “worrying trend.”

He advised anyone in a high risk category to get a flu shot.

Swiss Organization To Allow Suicide For Healthy Elderly People

A Swiss right-to-die and assisted suicide organization has announced they are no longer going to limit their services to people suffering from some kind of terminal illness.

The group, “Exit”, has announced that “suicide due to old age” is now going to be considered a valid reason for use of their assisted suicide techniques.  The group says that older adults who are experiencing psychological or physical problems can now choose to end their life rather than deal with issues like arthritis.

The group also said they will be streamlining the process for elderly patients who do not want to experience the lengthy process for assisted suicide.

Assisted death is legal in Switzerland.

The Swiss Medical Association was quick to issue a condemnation of the group’s actions, saying that their decision could cause significant problems for elderly citizens whose families just don’t want to care for them in later years.  Families could force family members to say they want to die when they really don’t wish to die.