Swine flu takes turn for the worse
Six young people with swine flu are on life support in a Sydney hospital as health experts try to work out why the disease is striking some young, healthy people so severely.
The six otherwise healthy people, all under 40, are in intensive care on last-resort life support systems because their lungs cannot handle regular ventilation.
Around 900 people have been taken to hospital with swine flu in what doctors say is no ordinary winter flu season.
Authorities say people with underlying medical conditions are still the most vulnerable to swine flu, but Commonwealth chief medical officer Jim Bishop is warning the disease can strike young and otherwise healthy people quite severely.
He says the warning signs include having a higher respiratory rate and difficulty breathing, but if the disease is identified early it can be easily fixed with medication.
But the Medical Journal of Australia has outlined the cases of five people in Melbourne whose conditions highlight the small but significant risk of swine flu causing life-threatening respiratory failure.
Two of those people had been previously well but then deteriorated rapidly.
In Sydney, Dr Kerry Chant says there has been an increased demand for intensive care this year.
“The ECMO is a particular machine. It is basically where the lungs are given a rest and it is using sort of cardiac bypass,” she said.
She says the machines are being sent to different hospitals around the state as needed.
“The human swine flu is moving across metropolitan Sydney,” she said.
“Last week we have seen the impact most in Sydney’s south-west and then progressively it has been moving through.
“That is actually a positive feature because it means that there are bits of the health system that are being impacted upon at different times.
“There has been extensive planning over many years for a pandemic, so the hospitals in New South Wales all have pandemic plans in place.”
Dr Chant says in some cases the Health Department has reduced the load on intensive care units by deferring elective surgery.
Yesterday the New South Wales Government announced that a 61-year-old woman with underlying medical problems died from swine flu in Lismore.
The Commonwealth’s chief medical officer says there have been 19 confirmed deaths around the country and he has heard of two more overnight.
“Almost all of those swine flu deaths have been in people with prior medical conditions which have been exacerbated but as I said, there will be now some experience with unfortunately people who have been previously well,” Dr Bishop said.
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has set up a clinical taskforce looking at why swine flu is striking young healthy people so severely.