In the last week alone, over 100 cases of flu have been confirmed at Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital.
Symptoms of flu include a fever, shortness of breath and extreme tiredness. The virus spreads easily through coughs and sneezes, so in areas with high footfall – such as a hospital – flu can pass easily from person to person.
Each year, over 8,000 people are killed by the flu virus in the UK, with the most vulnerable: the elderly, young children and the sick, most at risk.
Over 500 patients were admitted to our hospitals with flu last year. So far this year, there has been 357 cases of Influenza A detected on our wards (a 13% decrease year-on-year), however 2018 was a particularly heavy year for flu, and the flu season is yet to peak.
Diagnosing and treating flu causes difficulties for clinical staff. When patients present with symptoms, a throat swab is taken, which is sent to the microbiology lab for analysis before a diagnosis report is generated.
The total end-to-end diagnosis process can take over 36 hours for a positive or negative result, which has implications for the clinician’s ability to isolate and treat patients with flu within a quick timeframe.
Patients waiting for a flu diagnosis are sometimes given unnecessary antibiotics to treat the symptoms, rather than antivirals which are effective in treating the flu virus.
In some cases, by the time a positive flu diagnosis has been confirmed, the patient has already been discharged and no further treatment is possible.
To combat these issues, the Pathology Team at NUH have invested in a new rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT). The rapid test enables patients to be diagnosed and treated significantly quicker, helping to stop the spread of the flu virus in wards and communal areas across the hospital, therefore improving patient and staff safety.
Costing £125,000, the machine can process eight samples at a time, and takes just twenty minutes to produce a diagnostic result.
The implementation of this diagnostic system at City Hospital has come about through collaboration between the Point-of-Care, Virology and Respiratory teams, who will be evaluating its impact on patient care and patient flow.
Of the 103 positive flu cases confirmed last week, 21 (just over 20%) were diagnosed using the rapid flu diagnostic test. NUH now hopes to roll the flu test out more widely across both QMC and City Hospitals, so that all clinical areas can benefit from the additional infection control support offered by this rapid test.
Dr Louise Berry, Consultant Virologist, said: “We expect that rapid flu testing will offer significant benefits for patient care, including a reduction in the length of stay, a reduction in the usage of antibiotics, and more informed clinical decision making. We’ll be able to give the right treatment to patients at the right time, and help prevent the spread of flu in our hospitals.”
NUH has also invested heavily in the promotion of the free staff flu vaccination, offered to all 15,000 NUH staff members. The flu jab offers protection, and prevents staff from spreading the virus within the hospital and to family, friends and the public. NUH has already exceeded the 75% front-line staff vaccination target, with over 10,000 members of staff having had the jab, and this campaign continues.
Sarah Moppett, Deputy Chief Nurse (Operations) said: “We’re hugely proud of the effort that our staff have gone to, to help us make our wards a safer place. Flu is a real risk for our most vulnerable patients, and we recognise that it’s our responsibility to help keep our patients, and each other, as safe as possible.”