If there's one message the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to get across to clinicians in the midst of this prevalent flu season, it's the value of antiviral drugs, and the importance of administering them early.
In a press call on Friday, CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., said that doctors aren't prescribing enough of these drugs — probably because of a perception that the drugs aren't effective. Frieden said that in some cases, doctors are choosing to wait for positive test results before prescribing antivirals, which may result in the patient's receiving treatment too late. Antiviral drugs ideally should be administered withn the first two days of having contracted the virus, he explained.
This season's flu has been particularly severe, with the CDC on Friday reporting 26 pediatric deaths from complications with influenza so far. Public Radio International states an additional 500 people were hospitalized last week. In Friday's call, Frieden estimated that millions have contracted the flu this year, and tens of millions have visited their doctors.
All this has made for inundated emergency departments. While it is important for flu patients to stay in touch with clinicians, health officials may have to get creative.
"It may be useful for providers to implement phone triage lines to enable high-risk patients to discuss symptoms over the phone and to facilitate early initiation of treatment," Frieden said. "An antiviral prescription can be provided without testing and before an office visit."