CDC: Current U.S. Flu-Related Hospitalization Rate Highest Since 2010-2011

Research

Roundup: U.S. Flu Hospitalization Rate at 12-Year High; Impact of Long-Term Use of NSAIDs on Knee Osteoarthritis; and More

CDC: Current U.S. Flu-Related Hospitalization Rate Highest Since 2010-2011

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the U.S. hospitalization rate from the flu, at this point in the season, is higher than any flu season since 2010-2011. 

So far this flu season, there have been at least 6.2 million illnesses, 53,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 deaths from influenza (the flu), stated the CDC in its latest report, released on Week 46 of the season ending Nov. 19.

“The highest hospitalization rates per 100,000 population were among adults aged 65 years and older (25.9 percent), followed by children aged 0-4 years (20.7 percent), adults aged 50-64 (11.1 percent), children aged 5-17 years (10.3 percent), and adults aged 18-49 years (5.6 percent),” the CDC states.

While it’s best to get vaccinated by the end of October, it’s important to know that vaccination after October “can still provide protection during the peak of flu season,” says the CDC.

Public health experts are concerned that flu hospitalizations will continue to increase after millions have traveled to see family and friends for Thanksgiving. And with Christmas around the corner, the flu will spread widely, officials say. While flu illnesses and hospitalization normally rise after Thanksgiving, the flu-related numbers were already at a decade-high record early in November.

Both the flu and RSV, another respiratory virus that especially affects children, have hit harder and earlier than normal this season after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the past two flu seasons and as the people have virtually stopped taking prevention measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

“An annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu,” reiterates the CDC in its most recent report. “Vaccination helps prevent infection and can also prevent serious outcomes in people who get vaccinated but still get sick with flu.”

Long-Term Use of NSAIDs for Pain from Knee Osteoarthritis Could Worsen Condition, Researchers Find

A new study indicates that long-term use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may lead to increased joint inflammation and damage to cartilage for those with osteoarthritis in their knees.

The findings stem from MRI scans of more than 1,000 patients with osteoarthritis in their knees, according to researchers who presented their report at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in November.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It affects an estimated 32 million adults in the U.S. and more than 500 million people worldwide. Often causing pain and discomfort, osteoarthritis occurs most frequently in the hands, hips and knees when cartilage that cushions the joint gradually wears away.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are commonly prescribed for osteoarthritis pain and inflammation.  But they are not meant as long-term solutions. Rehabilitation and regular exercise can help alleviate pain and discomfort. In some cases, surgery is a last resort. Always consult with your physician before continuing to take NSAIDs for pain that won’t go away. 

"NSAIDs are frequently used to treat pain, but it is still an open discussion of how NSAID use influences outcomes for osteoarthritis patients. In particular, the impact of NSAIDs on synovitis, or the inflammation of the membrane lining the joint, has never been analyzed using MRI-based structural biomarkers," said the study's lead author, Johanna Luitjens, postdoctoral scholar in the department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco, in a news release.

The study included 277 participants with moderate to severe osteoarthritis who were under sustained NSAID treatment for at least one year. They were compared with a group of 793 control participants who were not treated with NSAIDs. All participants underwent MRIs of the knee initially and after four years. Images were scored for biomarkers of inflammation.

“Joint inflammation and cartilage quality were worse at baseline in the participants taking NSAIDs, compared to the control group, and worsened at four-year follow-up.,” said a news release on the study.

Dr. Luitjens concluded that “prospective, randomized studies should be performed in the future to provide conclusive evidence of the anti-inflammatory impact of NSAIDs.”

New Study Challenges Role of ‘Good Cholesterol’ in Predicting Heart Disease Risk

Commonly known as the “good cholesterol,” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) may not be as effective as researchers previously believed in signaling cardiovascular disease risk among adults of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, according to a new study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

The latest research on HDL’s role, which published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that low levels of HDL cholesterol predicted an increased risk of heart attacks or related deaths for white adults – a long-accepted association. However, the same was not true for Black adults.  Additionally, higher HDL cholesterol levels were not associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk for either group, states a news release from the NIH.   

“The goal was to understand this long-established link that labels HDL as the beneficial cholesterol, and if that’s true for all ethnicities,” said Nathalie Pamir, Ph.D., a senior author of the study and an associate professor of medicine within the Knight Cardiovascular Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, in a statement. “It’s been well accepted that low HDL cholesterol levels are detrimental, regardless of race. Our research tested those assumptions.”

Researchers reviewed data from 23,901 U.S. adults who participated in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study (REGARDS). Previous studies on the “good” cholesterol levels and heart health were done decades ago with a majority of white adult study participants, the NIH said. For the current study, researchers were able to look at how cholesterol levels from Black and white middle-aged adults without heart disease who lived throughout the country overlapped with future cardiovascular events.  

Study participants enrolled in REGARDS between 2003 and 2007. Researchers analyzed data collected throughout a 10- to 11-year period. Black and white study participants shared similar characteristics, such as age, cholesterol levels, and underlying risk factors for heart disease, including having diabetes, high blood pressure, or smoking. During this time period, 664 Black adults and 951 white adults suffered a heart attack or heart attack-related death. Adults with increased levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides had modestly increased risks for cardiovascular disease, which aligned with findings from previous research.  

“However, the study was the first to find that lower HDL cholesterol levels only predicted increased cardiovascular disease risk for white adults,” the NIH states. “It also expands on findings from other studies showing that high HDL cholesterol levels are not always associated with reduced cardiovascular events.” The REGARDS analysis was the largest U.S. study to show that this was true for both Black and white adults, suggesting that higher than optimal amounts of “good” cholesterol may not provide cardiovascular benefits for either group.  

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