SAN FRANCISCO — Positive tests for influenza A in outpatient clinics may help to predict when hospitals can expect to see flu, a researcher said here.
One week prior to influenza activity increasing in two southern California emergency departments (ED), the portion of positive tests for influenza A increased in certain southern California outpatient clinics, reported Paige MK Larkin, PhD, of the University of California Los Angeles, in a late-breaking presentation at ASM Microbe.
Larkin talked about the importance of infection control when dealing with the flu in hospitals, but that by the time that EDs realize that cases of flu are increasing, it may already be too late.
“When flu is trending in the [ED], they will implement additional measures, whether it’s isolating patients who have upper respiratory illness or additional staffing, but these are pretty costly measures — you can’t do that all flu season,” she told MedPage Today. “But if we can predict, if we have a week or two where we can say ‘hey, it’s about to hit,’ then they can take those measures and it makes it more cost-effective and time-effective.”
To see if outpatient clinics could play a role, researchers collected weekly influenza testing data for 49 UCLA-affiliated outpatient clinics, which spanned more than 300 miles of southern California, and were divided into six regions. Data was collected from Dec. 20, 2018 to April 27, 2019. At the same time, researchers collected the number of total influenza tests and positive influenza cases at two UCLA-affiliated hospitals and EDs.
Overall, there were 7,057 tests performed, 1,677 of which were positive for influenza A (22.65%), with 281 testing positive for influenza B (4.38%). The authors said that specifically, clinics in Santa Monica and Los Angeles/Beverly Hills predicted increases in influenza cases at the hospitals.
Larkin described the potential use of the test as “utilizing the resources we have to improve healthcare.”
“Infection control is a big thing with flu, and [flu] happens every year. [The clinics] can do something as simple as doing the test and then they wirelessly transmit [de-identified data] to us, no effort on their part. We have this huge amount of data from the clinics … why wouldn’t this be able to help us predict something on an inpatient level?” she said.
Given that Australia is currently in the midst of another bad flu season, predicting and preventing the spread of the flu in the U.S. may take on added importance this year. Larkin said that they are continuously monitoring influenza A and B tests in preparation for the 2019-2020 flu season. She noted that they are adding clinics, especially clinics in more rural areas, as well as urgent care centers.
“We will see if the trends hold true as we add more and more clinics. It should be more predictive,” Larkin said.
Larkin and co-authors disclosed no relevant relationships with industry.