By Helen Branswell Medical Reporter (CP) – 19 hours ago
TORONTO — Intensive care specialists who fought to save desperately sick swine flu patients this spring and summer have a warning for hospitals that haven’t yet dealt with an influx of these difficult-to-treat patients.
Prepare. Now. Experts predict ICUs are likely to be the main battlefield in the war against a pandemic virus which so far doesn’t appear to have much of a middle ground.
The vast majority of people suffer through a typical bout of flu. But of those who become sick enough to be hospitalized, a significant portion – maybe as high as 15 per cent, the World Health Organization says – end up in ICUs for weeks, hovering between life and death.
“I’ve never seen this,” says Dr. Paul Hebert, editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal and an intensive care physician in Ottawa who has treated several of these patients.
“As an ICU doctor, it’s very, very, very rare I can’t deliver enough oxygen to someone to keep him alive. They die of other things, right? They die because their organs fail.”
“In this case, we can barely oxygenate them.”
The worst-hit hospitals talk of having been on the brink of not being able to cope. They describe nearly running out of specialized equipment and the skilled staff needed to monitor these highly unstable patients in their high-tech hospital beds.
Public health officials need to look for ways to keep novel H1N1 patients from getting this sick and help hospitals access enough key drugs, equipment and even staff to cope with an expected surge of cases in the fall and winter, says Dr. Anand Kumar, an intensive care physician who has treated dozens of these patients in Winnipeg.
Kumar was so concerned about what he saw in the city’s ICUs earlier this year that he has been agitating, in medical and political circles, for stepped up pandemic preparations for the country’s hospitals.
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