Dutch advice on Mexican flu: 'Just sit it out'

An official is reflected on a monitor as he checks the temperatures of arriving passengers on a thermographic imaging device at Narita airport near Tokyo.
By our news staff

"Just sit it out" is the new advice of the Dutch health authorities concerning the Mexican flu, which turns out to be a relatively mild common flu.

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) announced Friday that it has stopped recording new Mexican flu patients in the Netherlands. Doctors and hospitals no longer have to report new cases to the health authorities.

From the available data it looks like the Mexican flu is after all relatively mild. Only one to three percent of all patients develop complications, mostly pneumonia.

Two thirds of all patients with complications so far belong to the traditional groups at risk. These include people over 60, children under two, people with diabetes, heart or lung diseases, pregnant women in their third trimester, and people with diminished resistance, for instance as a result of chemotherapy. These people already qualify for the regular winter flu shot.

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In other words, the Dutch health authorities are now treating the Mexican flu as a common winter flu. The common flu typically kills 200 to 1,000 people every year in the Netherlands, mostly people with an underlying condition. That is far below the "worst-case scenario" of 80,000 deaths that the health and home affairs ministries laid out this week for the Mexican flu.

"In terms of treatment, we are giving doctors the advice to treat the Mexican flu as the common flu," says Martijn Sobels of the RIVM. "That means that only patients at risk of developing complications require treatment. To other people our advice is to just sit it out."

People who catch the Mexican flu can expect to be sick for two to seven days. It remains to be seen whether the Mexican flu will have a serious effect on the economy if a lot of people get sick at the same time.

Sobels: "This will depend on how the disease develops, whether it peaks or is more spread out. According to our estimates we are looking at one in three to one in ten people getting sick at the same time."

The World Health Organisation announced on Friday that a vaccine for the Mexican flu will be available in September, sooner than expected. The Netherlands has ordered 34 million vaccines from the pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis - enough to vaccinate everyone twice.

It is not clear yet if the new approach to the Mexican flu will have an effect on the vaccine order.

Sobels: "The health minister will decide in mid-August who will be given the vaccine. But there too our advice is that doctors treat the Mexican flu as a common flu."

The RIVM is also asking doctors to give the anti-viral drug Tamiflu, which is used to treat already infected patients, only to people at risk of developing complications.

According to Jaap van Disel of the UMC hospital in Leiden the drug has too many side-effects to be distributed to all patients with the Mexican flu. Tamiflu given to 200 patients will avoid complications in just one patient, whereas 20 to 30 others may experience serious side-effects from the drug.

In mid-August every inhabitant of the Netherlands will receive a pamphlet in the mail with advice on what to do when the Mexican flu breaks out.

Meanwhile, the association of Dutch hospitals said on Friday that everything is in place to deal with a flu pandemic if it materialises.

The Netherlands currently has 912 reported cases of the Mexican flu. Last week the first death from the Mexican flu - a 17-year-old boy with an underlying condition - was recorded.

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