Ministry H1N1 info lines to contain public concern

Dr. Itamar Grotto tells Post public should not be overly alarmed by recent serious cases, but should take precautions.

Shimon Azran 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Shimon Azran 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The Health Ministry will run a "swine flu" phone information line with answers to questions on Wednesday and Thursday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. as a result of public nervousness over the first report of a patient who died of complications of the H1N1 virus. Advertisements in the media and on the ministry Web site at will provide more information. The man, 35, died at Josephthal Hospital in Eilat. He had been described by the ministry as "overweight and a heavy smoker" because of a 30 body-mass index and having smoked one-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day for years, but the family has filed a malpractice suit, claiming his case was "not treated seriously enough" at the southern government hospital. As a result of the tragedy, Safed's Rebecca Sieff Hospital reported that it had received a wave of phone calls and visits by nervous individuals asking questions about the virus. The doctors tried to calm them down, saying that in the North, only people who had been exposed to the virus abroad had been infected. According to infectious diseases expert Dr. Dan Miron, the symptoms are a fever over 38º Celsius, a runny nose, muscle pain and shortness of breath. Anyone who has had these symptoms for more than three days should see a doctor, he said. Meanwhile, a 50-year-old from the Jerusalem area who is morbidly obese and suffering from hypertension and diabetes has been attached to a respirator at Shaare Zedek Medical Center after developing complications from the H1N1 virus. He and a handful of other swine flu virus patients are in medium or serious condition in various parts of the country. Ministry public health chief Dr. Itamar Grotto told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the public should not be overly alarmed by these serious cases, but that they should take precautions to avoid getting infected and spreading the virus. Generally healthy people who have flu symptoms should remain at home so as not to infect others. Those who are at high risk because they suffer from chronic illness or a weak immune system should go to their doctors for diagnosis and possible treatment with Tamiflu, an anti-viral drug that reduces the risk of complications. Grotto said that so far, about 1,000 Israelis have been prescribed the drug, which is useless as a preventive medication before infection. It may also cause side effects in people who need it, added the ministry official. Ordinary influenza is prevalent in the fall and winter months, thriving in cold weather when windows are closed and fresh air is not introduced. But Grotto said that H1N1 seemed to be thriving in the current hot weather because "it is very infectious. Fortunately, however, the effects have been very mild, with over 99.9 percent of those infected not having serious complications." So far, about 1,500 cases - about 30 or 40 new cases a day - have been reported in Israel, he said. Others have gone unreported, with people who feel unwell just staying at home and not going to their doctors. In Australia, where it is currently winter, some 200,000 people out of a population of some 18 million have been infected by H1N1 or ordinary flu since the beginning of the season, and a few dozen have died. Ordinarily healthy Israelis are not advised to go for testing for H1N1 because they will probably have a mild case, said Grotto. "Our aim is that those who need hospitals get there, those who need clinics go there, and those who don't need either stay at home," he said. If in the future the course of the infection were to change, the ministry would consider changing its policy. The ministry is planning a public education campaign for the autumn to reduce prevalence of the flu and to encourage vaccination against conventional influenza, which could combine with H1N1 virus. Reports in the Hebrew media that up to one-quarter of Israelis are likely to contract the H1N1 virus this winter were described by Grotto as exaggerated. Nobody knows how the virus will behave, he added. Meanwhile, it was reported by UPI that the first healthy-human trials of H1N1 flu vaccines have begun in Australia, where the flu season is under way. About 500 people are participating in the trials conducted by the CSL and Vaxine pharmaceutical companies. As soon as the vaccines are proven safe, they will go on the market, maybe as soon as September.