More ICU beds needed for flu patients

As the number of swine flu cases recorded in Greece rises to the 2,000 mark, experts told a conference examining the likely impact of the H1N1 virus on public health that more beds must be made available in the intensive care units of the country’s hospitals to deal with patients afflicted by the bug. Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos has pledged to hire additional nurses so that Intensive Care Units (ICU) that are currently closed due to understaffing can open. Sources said yesterday that the recruitment would be pushed through despite a usual freeze on such procedures during pre-election periods. According to Giorgos Saroglou, an expert on infectious diseases at Athens University, some 185 additional beds need to become operational in ICUs as soon as possible. There are fears that many patients who contract swine flu may have to be transfered to ICUs due to complications caused by other ailments, particularly heart or respiratory problems. Another speaker at the conference, an administrative official of the National School of Public Health, drew attention to the likely cost of a possible swine flu pandemic in Greece to the nation’s already beleaguered economy. According to Nikos Maniadakis, the infection of one-third of the population with the H1N1 virus would cost between 1.4 billion and 3 billion euros. Of this, between 100 and 200 million would be health care costs, with the remainder corresponding to working hours lost.