With Covid-19 hospitalizations spiking again in lots of elements of the nation, public well being officers have expressed considerations a couple of perennial supply of pressure on the well being care system: seasonal flu. As threats of a “twindemic” loom, well being care employees have burdened the necessity for vaccination and different preventive measures to gradual the unfold of flu.
One insurance coverage firm goes additional to attempt to mitigate the consequences of flu season: UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest medical health insurance firm, plans to offer at-risk sufferers with 200,000 kits that embrace Tamiflu, the prescription antiviral therapy; a digital thermometer; and a coronavirus P.C.R. diagnostic check. Individuals can take the check at dwelling after which mail it in for laboratory evaluation, serving to sufferers and medical doctors decide the reason for their signs, which is especially vital as a result of the coronavirus and flu have comparable signs however differ in therapy.
“These viruses have confirmed themselves extremely able to placing pressure on our well being care system alone,” mentioned Dr. Kelly Moore, an affiliate director of the Immunization Motion Coalition. “Their mixed affect is absolutely worrisome.”
In late September, UnitedHealthcare started inviting its Medicare Benefit members to enroll in the kits both on-line or by telephone, beginning with a deal with these at highest threat of problems from Covid-19 and the flu primarily based on their age and well being standing. Since then, 120,000 individuals have enrolled, and the corporate has begun transport the kits. The corporate has greater than 5 million Medicare Benefit members.
The corporate mentioned supplying individuals with Tamiflu upfront may assist to mitigate the severity of flu infections as a result of the antiviral medicine will get much less efficient with each hour that passes from onset of signs and is just about ineffective after 48 hours. Tamiflu on common shortens the length of sickness by one to 2 days if taken quickly, in line with Dr. Moore. It may possibly additionally assist forestall sickness in somebody at excessive threat of problems who has been uncovered to the flu, however just isn’t routinely beneficial for preventive use in most populations.
All members signing up for the flu kits needed to verify the state the place they dwell in order that the Tamiflu prescription could possibly be distributed by a doctor of their state. They needed to attest, both over the telephone or by an internet type, that they might wait to take the prescription drug or the coronavirus check till after receiving route from a doctor by a telemedicine appointment, although there isn’t a further system for verifying this course of as soon as they obtain their kits. Members additionally needed to agree to not give the medicine to others.
“We thought, ‘Think about for those who begin getting sick and already had a mini pharmacy at dwelling,’” mentioned Dr. Deneen Vojta, govt vice chairman for analysis and growth at UnitedHealthcare. The objective, she added, is to lower the variety of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths ensuing from seasonal flu.
There is no such thing as a cost for the Tamiflu or the coronavirus check, so long as individuals obtain recommendation from a physician through telemedicine. An organization spokesman mentioned that the kits may produce financial savings by lowering hospitalizations by preventive care.
Flu package recipients might be directed to schedule digital physician’s appointments in the event that they expertise viral signs. The initiative has grow to be doable largely due to the general public’s elevated acceptance of telemedicine amid the pandemic. A national survey from Deloitte launched in August discovered that the proportion of well being care shoppers utilizing digital physician’s visits rose to 28 p.c in April 2020 from 15 p.c in 2019, as sufferers have prevented in-person visits to clinics the place they’re at elevated threat of coronavirus publicity.
UnitedHealthcare’s initiative focused Medicare sufferers as a result of the aged are extra liable to extreme an infection from each the coronavirus and the flu. Covid-19 sufferers who’re over the age of 80 are a whole lot of occasions extra more likely to die from the illness than these below 40. They’re additionally extra more likely to die from the flu — between 70 and 85 p.c of flu-related deaths happen in individuals 65 or older, in line with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
UnitedHealthcare additionally plans to gather information on co-infection with the coronavirus and flu. Evaluation from Public Health England confirmed that individuals contaminated with each viruses have been greater than twice as more likely to die, and most circumstances of co-infection have been in aged populations.
Whereas no different insurance coverage firm has mentioned it plans to ship out prescription antiviral medicine, Aetna introduced it will ship its 2.7 million Medicare members kits containing a thermometer, hand sanitizer and face masks. Anthem has partnered with group organizations to create 500 native pop-up clinics administering free flu vaccines.
There may be some trigger for optimism about efforts to mitigate the unfold of the flu this 12 months, in line with Dr. Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard. Australia reported a 99 p.c lower in reported flu infections this 12 months in contrast with 2019, partly on account of widespread social distancing.
Individuals ought to nonetheless be making each effort to forestall flu an infection by vaccination. “If there’s an overlapping demand from the 2 viruses, it is going to compound the issue of delivering well being care,” Dr. Lipsitch mentioned. “Our well being methods are already normally stretched by flu season, and could possibly be much more stretched by Covid.”