As the swine flu is confirmed in Massachusetts, local hospitals ask patients with flu-like symptoms to restrict visitors.
South Shore hospitals and doctors are stressing increased vigilance – not panic – as swine flu concern mounts around the country and the world.
It is still not clear how serious the swine flu outbreak will be in the United States, they said, or what age groups it will most affect.
There have been no confirmed cases of swine flu at any local hospital so far. At South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, signs are posted asking anyone who is sent to the hospital by their doctor with flu-like symptoms to go to the emergency department entrance.
Dr. Todd Ellerin, chief of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital, said if a patient is admitted with flu-like symptoms, visitors are restricted to the primary caregiver or caregivers.
“We need to be concerned as we were before, but not panic.” Ellerin said. “It’s not surprising that we have cases in Massachusetts and I think we will see more cases in Massachusetts.”
The state Department of Public Health confirmed Wednesday that two children in Lowell had swine flu. The cases are mild and the children will recover, officials said.
Test results were not available from a possible swine flu victim in Brockton.
Ellerin stressed that every year, there are 20,000 to 36,000 deaths from the flu in this country. Most occur in the elderly, the very young, or sick people with poor immune systems.
He said that when flu deaths occur in younger adults with good immune systems, as happened in 1918, it means a particular flu virus is causing the body’s immune system to overreact. That exaggerated immune response can be more lethal than the flu and cause a pandemic.
The latest hospital precautions were introduced after the World Health Organization raised the alert status of the swine flu to Phase 5, its second-highest level, signaling a global pandemic could be imminent.
Quincy Medical Center and other local hospitals have instructed staff to strictly follow all infection control measures: masks, gowns, hand sanitizing.
At the Manet Community Health Center’s Houghs Neck clinic, nurse practitioner Jane Maffie-Lee, chief operating officer, said the staff at the registration desk was asking patients if they had a cough and a fever. If the patient did have both, the patient was asked to put on a mask as a precaution.
“Some patients won’t do it,” she said. “They think it is silly. They may have a cough because they have allergies. But if they were really sick, they’d look terrible and feel terrible and they would put on a mask.”
Ellerin said anyone who thinks they have flu-like symptoms shouldn’t just show up at a hospital. “They should contact their health care provider first so the provider has time to take precautions,” he said.
Sue Scheible may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.