Swine flu can cause viral pneumonia

WHO tells doctors to treat it quickly with class of drugs

By Rob Stein
Washington Post / October 17, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The World Health Organization urged doctors yesterday to treat suspected swine flu cases as quickly as possible with antiviral drugs, warning that the virus can cause potentially life-threatening viral pneumonia much more commonly than the typical flu, sometimes in relatively young, otherwise healthy people.

“It’s not like seasonal influenza,’’ said Nikki Shindo, a medical officer in the WHO’s Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response Department. “It can cause very severe disease in previously healthy young adults.’’

Shindo’s made those comments at the conclusion of a special three-day meeting in Washington of more than 100 specialists from around the world.

The WHO called the meeting to review the latest research on the H1N1 virus and to revise guidelines for treatment.

Unlike the seasonal flu, Shindo said, the virus appears more likely to travel deep into the lungs, where it can cause viral pneumonia. Such a condition can cause severe lung damage and a life-threatening condition known as acute respiratory distress syndrome.

“Remarkably different is this small subset of patients that presents very severe viral pneumonia,’’ Shindo said.

Shindo noted that some hospitals in Australia and New Zealand were severely strained by seriously ill swine flu patients during their winter, which recently ended.

“This disease overwhelmed emergency rooms and especially intensive care units because of the very severe patients that required special care,’’ Shindo said, urging hospitals to prepare for the possibility of a significant number of patients requiring intensive care.