The EMT Guide To Swine Flu

By now, you’ve most likely heard the reports of a possible swine flu pandemic and maybe you’ve even fielded a few questions from concerned friends and neighbors. As always, The EMT Spot aims to keep you updated on what you need to know to do your job safely.

The latest strain of swine flu is an influenza type A virus. (H1N1) These viruses emerge from the shared pool of influenza viruses that occasionally transfer from birds (avian flu), to humans (common flu), to pigs (swine flu). Each time we trade these viruses back and forth between humans and animals, the viruses have an opportunity to mutate. The new strains may be more contagious than the last and may respond differently to antivirals. (But not necessarily.) Currenty the CDC is recomending Oseltamivir and Zanamivir for this strain of virus.

As of today the virus has killed 68 people in Mexico and sickened over one thousand more. Now the illness has jumped the boarder and appears to be spreading fairly rapidly across the U.S. At the time of this writing 20 cases have been confirmed by the CDC within the U.S. starting in California and moving to Texas. The list of confirmed cases now includes New York, Kansas and Ohio.

What to look for in your patients

Swine flu presents like a common respiratory influenza. Patients will present with common flu symptoms that can vary significantly in severity from one person to the next. Look for productive or dry cough, fever, chills, body aches, sore throat and fatigue. There have been some reports of GI symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.

Swine flu may precipitate significant respiratory distress, especially in patients with underlying respiratory conditions or those with compromised immune systems like HIV patients and patients receiving chemotherapy.


Any patient reporting a high fever with respiratory difficulty should be questioned about recent travel. Patients who are within flu areas or who have visited flu areas in the past seven days need to be treated with full isolation precautions. Any care giver working within six feet of the patient should put on gloves, a gown, eye protection and a mask rated N95 or better.

Place the patient on a filtered oxygen supply. This would include a non-rebreather mask or a BVM with a HEPA filter. Notify the facility in advance and don’t remove the patient from the rig until the hospital is ready to receive them. When possible, avoid droplet producing procedures like nebulized medications and suctioning. Treat symptoms per protocol.

After the call, clean and disinfect everything that came within 6 feet of the patient. Give a good cleaning to the stretcher and any equipment that came in contact with the patient. Follow up with the receiving facility on lab results for your patient and notify other members of you agency of the nature of the call (in a HIPPA compliant way, of course.)

For more up to date information, check out the ongoing CDC investigation for swine flu.

Stay safe ya’ll.

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  1. […] Read outstanding blog post from paramedic Steve Whitehead at his blog, the EMT spot, about Swine Flu. […]