Last year’s flu season was more severe than the 2009 swine flu outbreak and saw one in four ICU beds occupied by patients suffering severe complications from the flu, researchers at The Alfred have confirmed.
In an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine today, lead researchers Professor David Pilcher and Dr Aidan Burrell – both intensivists from The Alfred hospital and Monash University – revealed the number of people admitted to ICU with pneumonia or sepsis during the flu peak in September 2017 was the highest on record.
While an increase in laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu between June and October last year was widely reported, the effect of these cases on admissions to ICUs across Australia was unknown.
The Alfred team used the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society (ANZICS) adult patient database to compare recent ICU admission patterns from 181 intensive care units with the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in 2009.
The comparison revealed last year’s flu season:
- Accounted for 16 per cent of all ICU admissions and 26.5 per cent of ICU bed days
- Peaked later than the 2009 outbreak: the week beginning 17 September 2017
- Caused 800 of the 3240 deaths admitted to ICU
- Caused the highest number of bacterial pneumonia, viral pneumonitis and sepsis admissions to ICU since the ANZICS database began in 1993
- Affected a slightly older patient base (mean 63 years compared to 54 years)
- Carried a mortality rate of 17 per cent for patients admitted to ICU compared to 16.4 per cent in 2009.
Dr Burrell said this analysis could help to inform future planning for flu seasons globally.
“Using this information, we are able to better prepare our ICU for the peak winter period and flu season,” he said.
“Given the severity of last year’s flu season, we are once again urging everyone to take every precaution against the spread flu. This includes getting vaccinated – especially if you’re at high risk of contracting the flu, staying home if you’re unwell and washing your hands regularly.”