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Switzerland: Concern over swine flu in Swiss hospitals

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  • Switzerland: Concern over swine flu in Swiss hospitals

    August 14, 2009 - 8:03 AM
    Concern over swine flu in Swiss hospitals

    New cases of swine flu at hospitals in Lausanne and Basel have raised concerns about how well Swiss patients are protected from the virus.

    A doctor at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) recently infected 12 people with the A/H1N1 virus after returning from a holiday abroad. And in Basel, a young mother who gave birth last month is in a critical condition after catching the flu while in hospital.

    The physician, who worked in the CHUV maternity ward, contaminated ten of his colleagues and two pregnant patients when he went back to work on July 31 despite feeling unwell.

    The hospital sent the doctor home and contacted everyone he had come into close contact with that day. Those infected were treated with antiviral drugs and his co-workers were also sent home.

    "It's annoying, but it shouldn't have happened," CHUV spokesman Darcy Christen told

    Meanwhile, a young mother remains hospitalised at Basel University Hospital. She is in a critical condition after catching swine flu from a visitor at Bruderholz Cantonal Hospital in canton Basel-Country, where she gave birth. The woman has severe pneumonia; she has been in an artificial coma for the past two weeks and is on a respirator. Her child was not infected with the virus.

    Pregnant women and people with health problems are vulnerable to more severe effects from the new flu strain.

    Question marks

    The recent incidents have raised questions about the preventive measures in place at Swiss hospitals.

    According to Margrit Kessler, president of the Swiss Patients' Association, patients are "not properly protected" from swine flu.

    "These are serious cases," she told "The staff is under great pressure to come to work, even when they have a fever, and suddenly it has unbelievable consequences."

    But Jacques de Haller, president of the Swiss Medical Association, told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that the Lausanne doctor had not been negligent and the situation should not be overdramatised.

    "This is not a disaster," he said, while admitting that more care should have been taken as the doctor worked in the maternity ward.

    He added: "If every doctor who coughs doesn't work, we all have a problem."

    « The staff is under great pressure to come to work, even when they have a fever... »

    Margrit Kessler, president of the Swiss Patients' Association National coordination Kessler also criticised the fact that Switzerland has 26 cantonal health systems with slightly different approaches to handling swine flu in hospitals. She felt this should be better coordinated at the national level.

    The Federal Health Office says it plans to publish new national recommendations next week aimed at protecting hospital staff and patients. But it won't deal with the issue of visitors or visiting rights, which is the responsibility of the cantonal hospitals and doctors.

    Christen said containment measures had been stepped up at the CHUV since the recent incident.

    "We have reminded staff of the strict measures in place: to remain at home and not come to work if they feel ill; to wear a mask for seven days if they have been in contact with someone with the virus; to disinfect hands regularly and cough into tissues," he said.

    There were no plans to reduce hospital visits but specific information on the risks was provided to visitors, the spokesman added.

    Different approaches

    No additional measures are planned at the Bruderholz Hospital, however.

    The hospital continues to focus on informing and educating staff and visitors. Signs have been installed to dissuade people from visiting and all visitors to pregnant patients or the chronically ill are asked to wear masks, but this is not enforceable.

    But just 30 kilometres away at the Liestal Cantonal Hospital, also in canton Basel-Country, things are different. All staff and visitors to women who are pregnant or have given birth are obliged to wear a mask and disinfect their hands. The hospital also recommends that they do not receive visits.

    In Bern, Basel and Zurich, the main hospitals rely on visitors' and patients' personal responsibility. The staff is also kept informed about additional hygiene procedures.

    Andreas Bitterlin, a spokesman for Basel University Hospital, said they discussed restricting visiting rights or forcing people to wear a mask.

    "But we feared the mask would give a false sense of security and people would neglect other hygiene measures," he told Der Bund.

    "I do not know why this is conceived so differently," admitted de Haller. "But it is clear; if swine flu is really dangerous they would all quickly agree."

    Simon Bradley,


    [Comment: Switzerland is the home of WHO headquarters...]