Researchers are indicating that a rapid treatment with antiviral medications can help influenza patients by reducing risk of illness and mortality.
The study conducted over elderly in long-term care facilities showed that influenza outbreaks were shorter with fewer cases and fewer deaths among residents on preventive antiviral medications within five days of the first case.
The preventive administration of medication is known as chemoprophylaxis.
Sooner antiviral medications are given to long-term care residents potentially exposed to influenza, the more likely it would be that influenza infection could be prevented and facility outbreaks controlled.
"Prompt initiation of chemoprophylaxis after identification of influenza A in a long-term care facility can decrease the severity of influenza outbreaks in those settings," said Marcie Rubin, MPH, MPA, of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Rubin and personnel from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Bureau of Communicable Diseases analysed the data from 52 outbreaks of influenza A in New York City long-term care facilities over the course of three influenza seasons.
The outbreaks that the researchers studied occurred between 2001-2004, at which time amantadine was the frontline therapy for treatment and prophylaxis of influenza.
The analysis revealed that facilities that began prophylaxis within five days of the influenza outbreak's detection had outbreaks that lasted only about a third as long as those institutions that took longer to begin treating people (6.7 vs. 18.3 days).
Early intervention also led to far fewer cases with 6.2 cases/100 residents vs. 10.5 cases/100 residents and deaths were also 0.45 /100 ill residents vs. 3.3 deaths/100 ill residents.
The researchers suggest that facility staff increase their vigilance for diagnosing influenza cases.
They also recommend that the process for collecting respiratory specimens for influenza detection be streamlined, with rapid testing and efficient communication of results from the laboratory to the staff.
The new study appears in the July 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, currently available online.