Girl's death may be linked to swine flu

Health Ministry: We cannot rule out flu complications; hospital limits visits to minimize spread of virus.

swine flu sign ben gurion 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
swine flu sign ben gurion 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
A 12-year-old girl with symptoms of the H1N1 swine flu virus died on Wednesday night at Schneider Children's Hospital in Petah Tikva, where she was rehospitalized in serious condition on Tuesday. She was the third Israeli to die after catching the H1N1 flu virus. The girl, who suffered from chronic illnesses, was treated last week with Tamiflu, the anti-viral, prescription-only medication that can reduce complications of H1N1 flu, and was sent home, but then suffered a cardiac arrest. She was brought back to the hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit. The Health Ministry stated that while the girl suffered from several illnesses, it was not possible to rule out the possibility that she died because of the swine flu. On Tuesday, the Emek Medical Center in Afula - some of whose staff are on vacation in August - asked the public to avoid unnecessary visits to patients to reduce the risk of infection and, if they do visit, to wash their hands often in soap and water or use disinfectants. Director Dr. Orna Blondheim said that over the past few months, the hospital had received more than 100 people of all ages suspected of having contracted H1N1 swine flu. The virus is quite easily communicable, so reducing the number of visitors would minimize in-hospital infection. Thus, until further notice, the hospital will allow only one person to accompany a patient who arrives at the emergency room and will limit the number of visitors to the wards. This week, the hospital distributed fact sheets about influenza and asked visitors to observe the new rules. Alcohol rubs for disinfection was available to visitors, who are asked to use them upon entering and leaving the premises. Other hospitals around the country are expected to follow suit. At high risk are pregnant women, babies and children, people suffering from chronic diseases and cancer patients who have weak immune systems. Infection risk can be reduced by washing hands frequently, sneezing into a disposable tissue or - if none is available - into the inside of the elbow, and avoiding crowded places if you suffer from fever, runny nose, muscle pains and a sore throat. Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu insists that there should be enough as-yet-untested H1N1 flu vaccine, a survey of 145 family physicians shows that 67 percent "see no immediate or any need for it" and 39% said it is "not worth spending" NIS 450 million that the premier wants to invest in it. Twenty-eight percent of the doctors said it was not currently relevant and that discussion should be postponed for two months, when the results of the vaccine's tests are clearer. Only 27% of those polled sided completely with Netanyahu, while 6% said even more should be spent than what the prime minister proposed. The poll was conducted for the publishing house Medical Media. CEO Yoel Shamos said those polled "are in the first line of the war against influenza" and that their views are significant in deciding what resources to invest. Meanwhile, there have been reports of a wave of purchases of Tamiflu. But health authorities said that even if a physician prescribes the expensive drug, it should not be taken without a doctor's recommendation and diagnosis. The drug is of no use before infection with the flu, and it can have serious side effects, especially in pregnant women. Tamiflu should be reserved only for people who have been diagnosed with H1N1 and are at high risk, they added. Two people have died of the virus in Israel in the past week. Health authorities fear that up to 700 Israelis may die of swine flu or related complications over the coming winter.