So the other day, grandma was taken to the hospital with various medical issues, and treated in the ER. After she was stabilized, she was sent to the ICU, but was unable to get a bed at first because the “ICU was full of H1N1 patients.” I’m was not sure what that means because the term “H1N1″ does not distinguish between the two flu events we are currently having, but I later asked and found out that the person who said that meant “Swine Flu.”*


I have no idea if the flu, whatever kind it was, was really the reason for the lack of a bed, and I’m not sure if the lack of space was the issue or if this was a mater of a lack of other resources. She did not wait long and was in the ICU pretty quickly, so it was not much of an issue.

But it did cause me to wonder if we are starting to see an over taxing of health care resources due to Swine Flu, or if the flu was merely being added to the list of reasons given when something expected (like an ICU bed) is not available.

And just as I was wondering that, I saw this: Swine flu and ICU bed use in Canada and Mexico, which reviews recent literature on this question and concludes:

…too many hospitals have prepared by paying lip service to pandemic planning. It’s time to take it seriously. Very, very seriously. Lives hang in the balance.

Read the blog post at Effect Measure to get the detailed analysis.
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* We have a little confusion here in Minnesota. Our Republican governor made a speech a while back asking people to not use the term “swine flu” (he was pandering to the swine industry) so a lot of people, especially Republicans, I noticed, use the term “H1N1″ instead. It would be nice if the process for settling on terminology used to describe these viral phenomena was somehow formalized by epidemiological experts or officials.

Comments

  1. #1 ERV
    October 13, 2009

    We called it swine flu. Politicians changed it.

    *shrug*

  2. #2 Kate
    October 13, 2009

    Here we’re calling it H1N1 as well. Our hospitals in NM are overwhelmed, as are our clinics. I had to take my daughter in a couple weeks back because the schools (in all their infinite stupidity) required any child with flu symptoms to be tested for H1N1 before returning to school, and couldn’t return for a week if positive. The local hospitals, for the most part, have put a stop to that, but one of the hospitals still tests whoever walks through the door.

    The Doctor who talked to us sent a faq to the school, which might have helped, but he also said that with so many kids sick and so much testing, they were still getting over 85% POSITIVE results for H1N1, so the thing to do is to assume if you have flu symptoms you have H1N1 and act accordingly. He also stressed that “accordingly” was to behave as though it were any other seasonal flu, but to watch for complications.

    Yesterday after my day surgery I walked into the ER (closest to the bus station) to use their plumbing. The room was PACKED. I’ve never seen the ER that full before, and I go there a lot (unfortunately)… and for it to be a Monday morning, that was pretty incredible.

    I think it’s obvious that this is being handled poorly, and that the hospitals were never ready to handle a pandemic like this. They need to be able to screen flu patients and the less ill from the ER unless there are obvious complications… perhaps set up a mobile unit or temporary flu triage in another location in the hospitals or clinics, even if they have to bring in portable classrooms from the school district or tents to do this. There’s no reason not to use nurse practitioners or even RNs rather than tying up doctors and ERs that should be dealing with more urgent needs.

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    October 13, 2009

    The usual convention for naming these things would have called it the Mexico City flu. Mexico objected. So then we fell back on “swine flu” and millions of pigs all over the world were destroyed (and I don’t mean slaughtered for consumption.) The pigfarmers might or might not have objected, but the big meatpackers absolutely have major clout with everyone who counts (especially television networks) so we fell back on “novel H1N1.”

    I don’t think we can blame novelists for dropping the “novel” part and just calling it H1N1, but now we have rocket scientists noticing that there are patented influenza vaccines whose patents referred to H1N1 strains before this year and are using that to sell tinfoil hats.

    Blame Canada.

  4. #4 David
    October 14, 2009

    Expanding on what Kate said, I think this will spur on the development of “fast track” options in ERs that are run by nurse practitioners. With the swine flu scare on, many parents that would just put their flu-ey kid on bedrest are bringing them in. This drastically decreases the already small signal:noise ratio of ER patients.

  5. #5 qbsmd
    October 14, 2009

    I’ve been wondering how practical it would be for hospitals to completely separate (as in put in different buildings) the parts that are needed to diagnose and treat communicable diseases and the parts that do surgeries and are therefore full of people more likely to catch diseases.

  6. #6 HP
    October 17, 2009

    I think we should name influenza viruses the way we name tropical storms — use common given names, and cycle them alphabetically. Influenza Alphonse, Influenza Betty, Influenza Cameron, Influenza Denise, etc., etc.

    It’s purely arbitrary and with no scientific basis, but the press and public would not soon confuse Influenza Alphonse with Influenza Betty.