With swine flu threat, MCG considers selective testing

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The emergence of swine flu cases in other parts of the country is prompting meetings at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics to discuss re-starting selective testing of patients, said James Wilde, a member of the health system pandemic planning committee and a member of the state pandemic flu task force.

While he is taking it seriously, much about what is happening with the outbreak in Mexico is undetermined and could be skewing how deadly the virus actually is, Dr. Wilde said.

"What we've got in the U.S. so far is not any more serious than our typical seasonal influenza outbreaks," he said.

Still, as a regional coordinating hospital for the state, MCG Hospital and Clinics hopes to hold a teleconference with the hospitals and physicians in the 13-county region surrounding Augusta to update them on pandemic plans, including how medications and resources would be allocated in light of a serious outbreak.

There have been no confirmed swine flu cases in Georgia and South Carolina and Dr. Wilde said testing of suspected flu cases at MCG Hospital ended about a month ago when the last several tests came back negative. While there is no plan in place yet, testing will likely be re-started only on those with flu-like illness who have traveled to an area where there is known swine flu outbreak, such as Mexico or New York City, he said. And then testing will be "probably only for the most suspect cases," Dr. Wilde said.

The vast disparity between the reported deaths in Mexico and the relatively mild cases in the U.S. raises questions about whether pneumonia patients with other causes are being mixed in with swine flu cases, he said.

"Something so far is not adding up in Mexico," Dr. Wilde said.

Experts have long warned of a coming pandemic and in order to do that, it usually requires a previously unseen virus, a population without immunity to it, and a virus that transmits easily from person to person, he said. While the swine flu virus may be new, what is unclear how easily it could jump from person to person, he said. This is also not clear from the reports from Mexico, he said.

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