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How accurate are tests for H1N1?

October 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Health officials weigh in on the treatment and testing for the H1N1 virus.Andrew Gotch, 34, has never been so sick in his life. And for the first time he had to go to the emergency room.

"I had pain, body aches and a fever," said Gotch. "Then it just progressed to vomiting."

Nurses gave him is a rapid flu test to see what kind of flu he has. But Good Samaritan Hospital's Dr. George Fallieras says no matter what the result, he will get treatment for his symptoms right away.

"You know you have to rely on clinical aptitude in these situations," said Dr. Fallieras. "And if a patient presents to you symptoms consistent with influenza, in the ER or clinic, then they should be treated for influenza."

Doctors say 20 to 60 percent of the time the rapid flu test is wrong. That means it can tell you that you don't have the flu when you actually do.

"You can't really rely on that. The accuracy of the rapid tests, when they show up a negative, is not that good," said Dr. Anne Schuchat from the CDC.

The latest numbers from the CDC show more half of H1N1 hospitalizations have been children. Nearly 24 percent of deaths have been young people under 25 and 65 percent of deaths are those between the ages of 25 and 64.

Health officials now say doctors should begin treatment immediately in patients suspected of having H1N1 and not wait for any test results.

Because Andrew has been sick for five days, antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza won't work for him. Doctors are checking to see if he's got a secondary infection like pneumonia. If not, he'll just have to wait it out.

"Take Motrin for the muscle aches and for fevers," said Dr. Fallieras. "Drink lots of fluids, get a lot of rest and anticipate it will just run its course."

The CDC says the best defense against H1N1 appears to be the vaccine. Distribution of both the injectable version and the nasal mist is underway throughout the nation.

L.A. County health officials says several free H1N1 vaccine clinics throughout the county will go on as scheduled started this Friday.


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