In my two prior swine flu columns, I advised everyone to be prepared for the flu season by getting vaccinated when the vaccine is available. I also talked about being prepared to stay at home for the duration of one’s flu symptoms.
Now I would like to give advice according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for medical treatment of swine flu.
There are two antiviral drugs available for treatment, Tamiflu (an oral medication) and Relenza (an inhaled medication). Antiviral treatment is recommended for the following groups of patients who display the typical symptoms of H1N1 infection, or swine flu, including fever, cough, aches, sore throat and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea:
- All hospitalized patients with swine flu
- Children younger than 5 years old, and especially those younger than 2
- Adults 65 years or older
- Pregnant women — treatment is thought to be safe and extremely important in this high-risk group
- Those with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, heart-related conditions, cancer, and diseases of the liver, kidney or bloodIn addition to the above recommendations for antiviral treatment, anyone who shows the following symptoms needs urgent medical attention:
- Difficult or rapid breathing
- Altered consciousness
- Persistent vomiting.
- A return of flu-like symptoms, including fever and a worse cough, after a period of improvement
- In children, not taking enough liquids, difficulty awakening or extreme irritability.
If an epidemic of swine flu does not materialize this year, there will be adequate treatment facilities available at doctor’s offices, clinics and hospitals to care for those who become ill. But if a truly major epidemic occurs, receiving adequate treatment may prove difficult.
In this scenario, health care facilities may be overwhelmed with sick patients. Medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and technicians, may be in short supply because of being too sick themselves to provide care.
We at the Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group Santa Cruz, like other local medical organizations, are making plans to deal with a worst-case scenario. In such a case, patients arriving at a facility for medical care might be screened and treated outdoors in their cars or in tents. Some clinic buildings might be designated to care for only swine flu patients. More care might be provided over the phone or by e-mail.
We are all exploring novel ideas to deal with a surge of sick patients, while at the same time remaining hopeful that such a situation will not occur.
If we find ourselves with an epidemic, it will be very important for everyone to rely on the media for up-to-date information on what could be a fluid and rapidly changing situation.
In conclusion, I repeat what I said in the beginning of this series regarding swine flu: We must be prepared, not scared.