The current flu season has been a record breaker and unfortunately not on a positive note. Influenza outbreaks began early this flu season and have maintained a rapid growth of hospitalization rates of flu cases that are the highest on record since 2003, when the Center for Disease Control first began gathering data on such statistics.
Those most vulnerable to the flu and needing admittance for hospital treatment are seniors, young children and people with already existing medical conditions. Even though the majority of Americans are able to treat themselves through the illness, the high number of cases this season has increased over last year as high as 50% in hospitals across the US. The Chattanooga, Tennessee hospital Erlanger Health System that reported 1,050 cases last year watched that number jump to over 1,500 cases between October 2017 and March 2018 this season.
Much of the stress hospitals have to deal with are the results of secondary infections derived from flu viruses. Pneumonia, heart conditions and other complications afflict patients with the flu resulting in a higher number of those patients requiring hospital admittance and this puts hospital staffs under increased stress and a much heavier workload. Erlanger Health System of Chattanooga reported their largest week of flu cases in February 2018 at 226.
The most prominent flu strain of the virus for this season has been the H3N2 and the challenge has been that flu vaccines are not quite as effective against this strain as others resulting in secondary care for those that became infected. Combined with other typical illnesses that occur during this time period has created an increase in demand for care which has also resulted in a rise in health care costs across the board. Insurance providers are feeling the effects as well.
For instance BlueCross of Tennessee has reported a fifty nine percent increase in medical spending related to flu cases as well as a fifty percent increase in hospital admissions for every thousand members covered. However overall the cost attached to flu treatment for members is still only at .1% of their annual medical cost making the impact limited.
Hospitals on the other hand are hurt a little more by these numbers since so many patients are taking up hospital beds for lower cost treatments instead of having those beds filled with patients needing higher revenue treatment such as surgery and other major medical services.