Hospitals see high traffic due to flu concern

May 2, 2009 9:08:01 AM PDT
Illinois' first cases of what the World Health Organization is calling H1N1 flu are confirmed.As the number of probable cases grows and hospitals try to keep up with the demand for testing, top scientists now say this flu strain may not be as dangerous as first thought. But health officials are still taking it seriously.

The number of confirmed cases in Illinois now stands at three.

There are at least 51 probable cases.

It is a little like a double edged sword.

Health officials want to get the word out about the flu. But they want to avoid alarming people unnecessarily.

The tents are intended for a major emergency situation such as biological warfare. They're set up in the parking lot of St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital right now, however, to screen patients for the H1N1 flu.

The hospital has been inundated with about twice the normal number of patients concerned about the flu since the early part of the week.

"We've had a number of patients who have come in whose work or school told them don't come back without a note from a doctor," said Dr. Scott Betzelos, St. Mary of Nazareth.

Chicago health department officials say hospitals around the city are seeing similar high traffic patterns.

"We can understand that people are concerned. But we want to make sure that concern does not end up choking the system that's there to help provide the care that people who really are sick and need those services can get it," said Dr. Terry Mason, Chicago Health Department.

The federal government announced on Friday it is buying 13 million more doses of Tamiflu and Relenza. Prescriptions around the country rose about 900 percent this week. But scientists studying the genetic makeup of the virus say so far it does not actually appear that threatening.

"This swine virus is very similar to regular influenza viruses which have been around last year and also this year," said Peter Palese, microbiologist.

At St. Mary of Nazareth they have diagnosed a few cases of probable H1N1 flu. But they have been mild and the patients were sent home with a prescription. Most others have been fine.

"You don't need to come to the hospital unless you think you're very sick. Just think of symptoms you would normally present at a hospital with and that's when you should come in," said Dr. Betzelos.

"You don't need to come to the hospital unless you think you're very sick. Just think of symptoms you would normally present at a hospital with and that's when you should come in," said Dr. Betzelos.


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