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Hospital space a victim of H1N1 in New Zealand

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In what could be a preview of things to come in the Northern Hemisphere, Bloomberg’s Jason Gale writes that, while it’s usually not fatal, H1N1 could still pose a public health threat, based simply on the sheer amount of hospital space its victims will occupy. As H1N1 sufferers pack intensive care units, those with more dangerous ailments may find themselves waiting for much-needed care.

“The Northern Hemisphere medical care requirements for the next six months are a train wreck waiting to happen,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis. “In the fall, even if nothing else changes in terms of the virus’s severity and our preparedness, it’s going to be a real challenge.”

While planned vaccinations may mitigate the virus’ severity in the Northern Hemisphere, experts say public health organizations still must be prepared for a situation like that currently straining resources in Oceania. In particular, current numbers of mechanical lung ventilation machines may be inadequate.

While fewer than 0.5 percent of swine flu sufferers may need hospitalization, those who do can remain in intensive care for up to three weeks, occupying a bed that could be used for 15 heart bypass patients. Christchurch Hospital, the biggest on New Zealand’s South Island, postponed non-emergency procedures requiring an ICU stay such as heart bypass as flu patients — three-quarters needing mechanical ventilation — filled up the 12-bed unit and nine other hastily created intensive-care beds, according to Shaw.