'Swine flu could paralyze children's wards'

Pediatric society: Gov't must approve more pediatric residents to take care of expected influx of sick kids.

Assaf Harofeh swine flu 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Assaf Harofeh swine flu 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
The Israel Pediatrics Society has called on the government to approve more job slots for pediatric residents so that in the fall, there will be enough specialists to take care of children infected with the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. The society chairman, Prof. Mati Berkowitz, said that the "handwriting is already on the wall" and that the severe shortage of hospital pediatricians would be even worse in the fall and winter, when more children and youths are expected to suffer from complications of the new flu strain. Berkowitz said whole pediatric departments could "collapse" in the next few months. The Health Ministry said last week that it had official estimates of 700 young people who might die in 2010 from complications of H1N1. On Sunday there were 15 people, nearly all under 60, in serious condition and struggling with H1N1 flu complications in the hospitals. So far, the official toll of people infected is 2,000, 99.9% of them mild. But the ministry has estimated that the actual number of Israelis infected with the H1N1 virus is much higher, due to people who had symptoms but did not go for testing. The public is being urged to wash hands with soap and water regularly to reduce the risk of infection. A new ministry circular has been sent to the hospitals, reminding staffers to wash their hands with alcohol gel between patients, as frequent use of soap and water can dry the skin. Anyone who feels ill and is not at high risk of complications should recuperate at home, the ministry said. On Sunday, Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman left for a visit to the US, during which he will try to get options on H1N1 flu vaccines from various companies. Kadima MK Rachel Adato, a gynecologist by profession, criticized the ministry on Sunday for not saying exactly where funding for the expensive vaccines - NIS 450 million if every Israeli were to get vaccinated - would come from. She expressed her concern that the vaccines would be purchased at the expense of the agreed-upon NIS 430 million expansion of the basket of health services for 2010, which is what the Treasury wants. If so, many lifesaving and life-extending drugs will not be available to desperate patients next year, Adato said. However, the ministry spokeswoman stated for the first time - without giving any details - that the flu vaccines would not be purchased at the expense of the health basket expansion, meaning that the Treasury would allocate a special sum to cover the costs. Meanwhile, Magen David Adom held training sessions on Sunday in Kiryat Ono to remind its staffers how to avoid being infected with or transmitting H1N1 virus. They received lectures on how to disinfect ambulances and how to use special masks that offer better protection against viruses. Until now, the anti-viral drug Tamiflu has been used for reducing the risk of complications in people with high-risk conditions who have already been infected with H1N1. Now, Glaxo-Smithkline has announced that it has brought its antiviral drug Relenza to Israel and deposited supplies in the Health Ministry's storehouses. The prescription drug should not be purchased as a preventive, as it does not protect people against the flu and could have significant side effects. Relenza comes in a round disk, with four "bubbles" of powder and a plastic inhalation device introduced via the mouth.