Swine Flu: How a Hospital Prepares for Patients (cont.)

So, a plan exists for those patients with swine flu. But what happens to the rest of the world, those who are going on with their lives and experiencing heart attacks, strokes, motor vehicle accidents, and a sundry of other accidents and illnesses? Life does not stop for them, and the medical system needs to be able to care for these people as well. Emergency planning attempts to minimize the effect that the surge of potential swine flu patients has on the ability of the hospital, the doctors, the nurses, and the support staff to care for other patients.

Public education will hopefully teach the non-critically ill patient what to do if they think they may have swine flu. Not every person with the symptoms of fever, chills, aches, and cough, even if it may be swine flu, needs to be seen emergently for care. Often a telephone call to the family physician, the health department, or hospital may be all that is needed to get information and perhaps medication if it is warranted.

However, swine flu can make people very ill. Dehydration and pneumonia may be life-threatening, and it is just as important to know when to seek medical care as it is to know when to stay home.

  • Pneumonia presents with shortness of breath, pain with breathing, fever, and cough. If there is dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, and decreased urination, dehydration may be occurring.

  • In infants and children, warning signs that medical care should be sought include: trouble breathing (wheezing, rapid breathing, and increased cough), irritability, decreased muscle tone, decreased urination, uncontrolled fever, and rash.

It seems that what's old is new again when it comes to swine flu and immunizations. When flu season arrives, it may be the elderly, who have been exposed to the flu bug many years ago, are at an advantage when it comes to making antibodies and being ready to fight a new infection. And it seems that the younger you are, the more at risk for developing complications of swine flu. This is especially true for those who are young and pregnant.

Hospitals and clinics have become used to the annual rise in patients presenting with flu-like illnesses. The unexpected outbreak of the swine flu (H1N1 influenza) in the spring of 2009 tested the systems and for the most part, the medical system was up to the task in caring for those in need. Little should change in those systems should they need to be ramped up to care for a potentially large number of ill patients during the flu season. Ideally, the goal will be prevention of swine flu and minimizing the spread, rather than trying to care for all those who are ill.

As the pharmaceutical companies are getting ready to role out their annual influenza immunization vaccines, who gets immunized and when will be an important public health decision. While a government agency can make recommendations, it will be up to the individual patient to get help from their care provider to decide if and when immunization should take place.

As a take home note, remember, during the 2007-0008 flu season, approximately 36,000 people in the U.S. died from the flu. Do we panic and raid stores of masks, hand sanitizers, and become overly stressed during the regular flu season? No. In fact, it's difficult to get a lot of people to comply and get a free flu vaccine to prevent the flu. Hopefully, during the flu season people will be more vigilant about getting the flu vaccination if it is recommended to them.

Last Editorial Review: 4/30/2009