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Swine flu patients should get specialist lung treatment

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Swine flu patients who are suffering severe respiratory failure ought to be given a specialist lung treatment, researchers have claimed.

The treatment - which helped Scottish pregnant woman Sharon Pentleton - saves one extra life for every six patients compared with conventional treatment for those who are critically ill. There is only one adult unit in the UK which offers extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

It involves circulating the patient’s blood outside the body and adding oxygen to it artificially.

Dr Giles Peek, from the ECMO unit at Glenfield Hospital, who led the study, said there was likely to be a ‘big increase’ in the need for ECMO as swine flu enters its second wave this autumn.

The research, published in The Lancet medical journal, said patients with severe but potentially reversible respiratory failure should be treated with ECMO to ‘significantly improve survival without severe disability’.

The trial run by Dr Peek and colleagues showed that 63% of patients given ECMO survived to six months without disability compared with 47% of those who were assigned to conventional treatment with a ventilator.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, said: ‘As the researchers point out, even with this treatment, these patients are so ill that the mortality and complication rate is still very high.

‘We have set up a working group of eminent specialists in critical care to look at such issues - they will consider the research findings in more detail.’

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