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Blood oxygenation appears to be the key to surviving swine flu for patients suffering respiratory failure, new research shows.
The observational study, carried out by New Zealand and Australian flu investigators between June 1 and August 31 this year, showed most patients who experienced respiratory failure after contracting swine flu survived if they were treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a type of life support that adds oxygen to the blood.
The study focused on 68 patients with severe swine flu associated acute respiratory distress, who received ECMO in 15 intensive care units across New Zealand and Australia.
"We looked at a number of factors associated with patients receiving ECMO, such as the incidence, degree of lung dysfunction, clinical features, technical characteristics, duration, complications, and survival," Auckland City Hospital's cardiothoracic intensive care specialist Shay McGuinness said.
"By doing this we have established the importance of ECMO as a treatment option for patients with severe influenza A H1N1 (swine flu) associated acute respiratory distress.
"Despite the severity of their illness and the lengthy period of time on ECMO life-support most of these patients survived."
Dr McGuinness said 54 of the 68 patients had survived and 14 had died. Six were still being treated in intensive care units.
"These findings are important to our colleagues all over the world and should be used to facilitate health care planning and clinical management for these complex patients during the ongoing pandemic," Dr McGuinness said.
The study was due to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on November 4, but will be published early online because of the importance of its findings for public health.