By Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes
Despite the many advances of modern medicine, the flu remains a challenge for healthcare — causing sickness, hospital stays and even death throughout the country every year. This year, there have already been as many as 18 million illnesses, 210,000 hospitalizations and 17,000 deaths reported.
Some of the newest developments in medical technologies, however, are helping providers out by making the flu a little easier to fight.
Here are five ways that some of the newest breakthroughs in MedTech can be used for flu management.
1. Adjuvants And High-Dose Vaccines
Last year, the FDA licensed two new flu vaccines that may help some of the most vulnerable demographics beat the flu — Fluzone High-Dose and FLUAD.
Fluzone High-Dose contains four times the usual dose compared to standard vaccines. FLUAD contains the normal dose but comes with adjuvants, compounds known to stimulate the human immune system and help it fight off diseases and viruses like the flu.
Previous research has found that both Fluzone High-Dose and FLUAD can be especially good at helping patients over 65 fight off the flu. One study on Fluzone High-Dose found that the vaccine was 24 percent more effective in preventing the flu compared to the standard dose. In another study, FLUAD was found to avoid as much as 51 percent of hospitalizations that would have occurred without vaccination.
As a result, the vaccine is seen as a powerful tool that can help those over 65 — the demographic most likely to need hospitalization as a result of contracting influenza — during flu season.
2. Predicting The Flu By Tracking Social Media
Predicting the flu can be essential in reducing its impact. This lets medical professionals know what kind of season they're facing. Traditional flu forecasting uses historical data but isn't always effective, as vaccinations and dominant strains can vary significantly from year to year.
Now, a team of researchers has found a new method that may be more accurate — using social media posts to predict seasonal flu outbreaks.
By scanning social media for posts that look like people complaining about flu symptoms, the algorithm could predict the season's timing and severity. The algorithm also used data from electronic health records of patients seeking care for flu symptoms, as well as Flu Near You, a public self-report service.
The researchers were able to predict the spread of the flu more accurately than even the current gold standard of forecasting, which is based on CDC data.
3. Cell-Based Vaccines
Traditional flu vaccines are manufactured by growing the influenza virus in chicken eggs. This method is reliable, but depends on a steady supply of eggs, and can introduce changes that may cause the produced vaccine to mismatch the virus it's designed to target. The process is also somewhat slow. This caused a big impact during the H1N1 flu pandemic when accelerated vaccine production was necessary and standard methods couldn't keep up with demand.
Now, the CDC has approved a new cell-based vaccine for the 2019-2020 flu season. These cell-based vaccines have a few different advantages over egg-based versions, including quicker manufacturing startup time and higher effectiveness.
Improved rates of vaccine production are nice to have in any case but are especially important in years facing more widespread outbreaks of the flu. That includes this season, which saw an outpatient visit rate of nearly 3 percent around the end of November. For comparison, the baseline visit rate during the 2015-2016 season was around 2 percent.
4. Using Data From Wearables To Forecast Flu Season
A research team in China analyzed user data from iThermometer wearables, which tracks body temperature to predict the Chinese flu season.
By retrospectively looking through the data, researchers found they could have forecast the flu season a full month before state agencies, which rely on reports from public health officials to make predictions. If this flu technology had been in place then, it could have given hospitals and clinicians more time to prepare for the severity of the season.
In the future, the tactic could also be applied to data from other smart and data-reporting devices to help monitor and predict the spread of other viruses that have been circulating this flu season, like African swine fever.
5. At-Home Flu Testing
Right now, if someone wants to know whether or not they have the flu, they have to see a doctor. Both the cost of visiting a clinic and the time it takes can discourage people from finding out whether or not they're infected. Even if they do visit a doctor, they can spread the flu virus onto every surface they touch along the way.
Government researchers think this problem can be solved with at-home flu testing. These tests can help people know when they have the flu, even if symptoms haven't started to show yet. This allows them to stay at home, get some rest and possibly order an antiviral like Tamiflu — reducing the chance they'll infect others.
MedTech For Flu Fighting
The flu remains a significant challenge for medical professionals. Some of the newest MedTech, however, may change this. Recent breakthroughs, like advanced forecasting techniques, new vaccines, and home testing, can help prevent influenza and reduce its overall impact.
About The Author
Kayla Matthews is a MedTech writer whose work has appeared on HIT Consultant, Medical Economics and HITECH Answers, among other industry publications. To read more from Kayla, please connect with her on LinkedIn, or visit her personal tech blog at https://productivitybytes.com.