Mexico flu patients isolated as death toll rises



MEXICO CITY, Jennifer Gonzalez - Struggling to breathe and unable to sleep, a swine flu victim clutched a hospital drip with one hand as he lay in an isolation ward that has seen some of Mexico's flu fatalities.
Around him, doctors covered from head to toe in protective outfits, including goggles and thick face masks, attended to patients in the special H1N1 epidemic ward at the National Institute of Respiratory Illnesses in southern Mexico City.



"The isolation time is seven days once treatment has begun," Alejandra Ramirez, the doctor in charge of the unit, told AFP.
At the hospital 23 patients have been split into groups of four in isolation rooms, depending on the severity of their condition.
In one room, patients sat up and read or talked together. In another room the patients lay almost unconscious, breathing through ventilators.
"We have two serious cases. They were already very sick when they arrived here. The others arrived earlier on and are reacting much better to the treatment," Ramirez said.
"When the epidemic broke out, they were arriving too late," the pneumologist said, adding that most patients were poor.
The institute began laboratory tests for H1N1 on Sunday.
Doctors declined to give precise patient numbers or to allow them to be interviewed, following strict government instructions for them not to speak out.
The federal government initially issued malleable figures, notably unreliable statistics for "probable" deaths, which went up and down.
Later it stuck to confirmed figures that aligned with those given by the World Health Organization.
On Wednesday, Mexico's official confirmed toll was 42 dead, and 1,070 confirmed infections.
"The only thing that matters to us is what they arrive with at the hospital. A serious atypical pneumonia needs the same treatment as if they have it (H1N1)," Ramirez said.
Visitors to the ward washed their hands extensively, as well as wearing protective clothing and masks.
In the street outside, shoe cleaners working near the hospital and the father of one of the patients were the only ones seen wearing face masks.
Federico Briseno had been sleeping in his van outside the hospital for one month and a half, while his daughter was treated for a throat problem inside.
"I use a face mask and I wash my hands as often as possible because I got ill when I brought my daughter here," Briseno told AFP.
Briseno said doctors rapidly detected that he had a virus and managed to cure him.
"I spent two days in hospital and then they told me to disinfect the van," Briseno said, adding that he was still not sure if he had had H1N1.
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Thursday, May 7th 2009
Jennifer Gonzalez
           


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