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H1N1 Fears Led to Overcrowded ERs

Last year's scare had people rushing for care even before the disease appeared, study shows

TUESDAY, May 4, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that last year's H1N1 pandemic led to overcrowding of pediatric emergency rooms as worried parents rushed their children to be examined.

"Our study shows that public fear of disease, even when actual disease is not present, can bring about the problems of emergency department overcrowding," said Dr. William M. McDonnell, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and adjunct professor of law at the University of Utah.

McDonnell and colleagues studied patients at a pediatric emergency department over three week-long periods. The first week was before concern over H1N1 (also known as swine flu), the second was before the disease was publicized but had not appeared in the community, and the third was when local people were getting sick.

Compared to the first week, the number of patients grew by 16.3 percent in the second week period, which the researchers called "fear week." Kids aged 1-4 years made up more than half of the increase.

During the third week, known as "flu week," the number of patients was 22.4 percent above the level during the first week, and kids aged 5-18 accounted for 91.7 percent of the increase.

The research is scheduled to be released Tuesday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine for more about swine flu.

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, press release, May 4, 2010
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