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ICU warning on swine flu

Monday October 12th, 2009

Up to 20 per cent of intensive care beds could be occupied by swine flu patients if the disease becomes a winter epidemic, according to a new analysis.

The disease struck countries such as Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere in the middle of winter and led to hospitals being overwhelmed with patients.

An analysis by doctors in the two countries shows that swine flu patients filled one in five intensive care beds at the peak of the epidemic.

Doctors said as many as one third of the intensive care patients were previously healthy patients with no underlying problems.

Patients were most likely to be infants or middle-aged and to be pregnant, obese or from the indigenous populations of the two countries.

Dr Ian Seppelt, of the Nepean Hospital, Sydney, Australia, said: "Intensive Care Units specialise in the management of patients with life-threatening illness and the surge of patients with H1N1 placed substantial strain on staff and resources.

"The most severely affected patients had pneumonia affecting both lungs that was caused by the virus. The number of patients admitted to ICUs with this complication represented a 600 per cent increase compared to previous years."

Associate Professor Steve Webb, of the intensive care unit at Royal Perth Hospital, Australia, added: "Unlike previous seasonal influenza strains, which impact heavily on elderly people and people with severe coexisting medical conditions, the H1N1 virus affected a different profile.

"Critical illness due to swine flu was most common in infants and middle aged people; with pregnant patients, the overweight, and indigenous patients particularly affected. Overall, about one-third of patients admitted to an ICU because of swine flu had no underlying health problems."

Meanwhile the US authorities announced plans for trials of new H1N1 vaccines on people with asthma and pregant women infected with HIV.

In Britain the government launched a campaign to promote the normal seasonal flu vaccine.

As in previous years the vaccine is to be offered to people over the age of 65 and people with long-term diseases. Some 15 million people are expected to be treated.

Dr David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the UK Department of Health said: "There has been so much coverage about swine flu this year that it is very important to remind people not to forget about getting their normal annual flu jab.

"People should not underestimate the effects of seasonal flu. It is not the same as getting a cold. It can seriously affect your health and the risks of developing complications are greater if you have certain pre existing medical conditions."

Tags: A&E | Australia | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Flu & Viruses | NHS | North America | Respiratory | Traveller Health | UK News | World Health

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