Helping the Sickest Survive H1N1 [aka Swine] Flu

October 14, 2009 at 3:36 pm , by

3968592255_15311a8b49Yesterday Emily, my health-blogging-partner-in-crime, and I were standing in line to get our seasonal flu shot like employees all over America whose companies are generous enough to provide them (thank you, Meredith!). Needless to say, everyone in line was talking about H1N1, the kind of flu shot we’re not getting because (1) the vaccine’s still in seriously short supply and (2) most employees are not in the high-risk groups. (See Emily’s story about who is.)

The best way to avoid the flu (either kind) is to wash your hands often; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; sneeze or cough into a tissue or your elbow; and stay home when you have flu-like symptoms until you’ve had no fever (without any medication) for 24 hours. Most people who  get H1N1 have mild cases and recover quickly. But a small number (roughly 4 percent in a new Canadian study) develop sometimes fatal lung inflammation and other symptoms (usually about four days after first getting sick) that land them in intensive care. Studies just published by The Journal of the American Medical Association give us an early look at what might help them survive, Two findings to remember:

Tamiflu. In Mexico, critically ill patients who survived were seven times more likely to have taken Tamiflu. Ask about it even if you think you have a mild case.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This technique—used in heart-bypass surgery—passes a patient’s blood through a machine that adds oxygen and returns it to the body because severe illness can block the body’s ability to get oxygen. ECMO helped patients in Australia and New Zealand pull through.

For the latest H1N1 news, see the Centers for Disease Control. (Photo by quinn.anya.)

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