A young Port Elizabeth father is fighting for his life after he was flown to Johannesburg yesterday with suspected swine flu.
Jacques Verster, 31 – the father of a month-old baby daughter – was accompanied by a special medical team on the flight and has been placed on a machine to help his lungs recover.
He fell ill 12 days ago, according to his wife Kirsten.
“As we knew he had the flu, we knew he couldn’t take antibiotics or anything,” she said. “He looked a lot better on Wednesday [last week] and went to work.”
But by the following day, he was in the intensive care unit at Netcare Greenacres Hospital.
“He got very ill, very fast,” Kirsten said.
She said to give his lungs a chance to rest and recover, doctors wanted to put him on extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation – or ECMO – a technique that uses a machine to take over the work of the lungs by placing oxygen in the blood to give the lungs a complete rest.
Kirsten said that as the machine was available at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, a team had flown to Port Elizabeth yesterday morning to stabilise her husband and then flown back to Gauteng with him.
She said so far doctors could confirm that Jacques had Influenza A. One of the flu viruses that falls in this particular category is swine flu or the H1N1 virus.
At this stage, Jacques’s family are healthy and there have been no steps to isolate them.
Dr Anchen Laubscher, medical director of Netcare, said the H1N1-virus, known as swine flu which resulted in a pandemic in 2009 and 2010, had nowadays become just one of the worldwide seasonal influenza virus strains and was seen occasionally throughout winter.
“Generally speaking, only patients who are at risk because of serious underlying, pre-existing conditions are hospitalised for the virus,” she said.
“Doctors follow standard, national and international protocols when it comes to treatment of such patients, and the same applies to infection- control measures followed by our hospital staff, to ensure the safety of other patients, our staff, and visitors,” Laubscher said.
Kirsten said: “It bothers me a little that there were no warnings this year. Each year doctors warn us to take care that a bad flu is coming. This year there was nothing. People must know to treat this flu with caution,” she said.
“Jacques is very ill. We will have to wait and see. I am very thankful for all the support from family and friends,” she said.
“This is very tough on us.” Laubscher said that, as with other strains of the flu virus, H1N1 was spread by contact with bodily fluids containing the virus.
It spreads through the air when someone sneezes, or one can contract it by touching a surface that someone with flu has touched – for instance in a bathroom or a handrail.
“People with chronic pulmonary, cardiac or kidney disease; compromised immune systems; those who have recently had a serious illness or surgery; the elderly and the very young, are generally more vulnerable and therefore at risk of contracting influenza,” she said.
“To reduce the risk of contracting flu, it is important to follow good personal hygiene.”
Laubscher said the symptoms were aches, shivering, fever, a sore throat, headache and watery, red eyes. People should seek medical care if they exhibited these.