- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Eight percent of hospitalized flu patients ages 85 and older die, more than twice as many as those ages 65 to 84, a federal study has found.

“The degree of difference in mortality was a little surprising,” said Anne Elixhauser, a senior researcher at the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and an author of the study.

Ms. Elixhauser said the findings are significant, given the dramatic aging of the American population, and because data indicates 35 percent of the Americans who are 65 and older do not get vaccinated.

The mortality rate for hospitalized flu patients between 65 and 84 was 3 percent, according to the study of flu hospitalization rates in 2004.

Ms. Elixhauser said the higher mortality rate for the 85-and-older group could reflect a greater level of immune deficiency among those seniors as well as more “co-morbidity,” or multiple illnesses.

Especially troubling, Ms. Elixhauser said, is that only more than half the population older than 50 gets flu shots, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for everyone in that age group.

Influenza, a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus, kills about 37,000 Americans yearly, the CDC says. The elderly, young children and people with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable to more severe symptoms of influenza and are more likely to require hospitalization.

“Although the elderly represented only 13 percent of the population in 2004, they accounted for 48 percent of hospitalizations for influenza,” the authors wrote. Patients 18 to 64 comprised about 60 percent of the population yet accounted for less than a quarter of all influenza hospitalizations in 2004, they said.

The study found that elderly patients were the most likely age group hospitalized for influenza two years ago. Among those older than 65, there were 28 hospitalizations per 100,000 population in 2004.

That rate was more than three times as high as the rate for children younger than 18, which was eight hospitalizations per 100,000 population. The hospitalization rate was two per 100,0000 among those ages 18 to 44. It was four per 100,000 among those ages 45 to 64.

About two-thirds of all 2004 hospital admissions for the flu originated in the emergency department. The elderly were most likely to be admitted for influenza through the emergency room, with a rate of 74 percent.

Public health officials endorse flu immunization through November and December, because flu activity typically occurs in the winter months.

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