Pandemic Fear Clogs Hospital ERs

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 7 (UPI) — Public fear can unnecessarily clog and strain hospital emergency rooms making a bad situation worse, U.S. researchers said.

Dr. William M. McDonnell, an assistant professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of law at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, and colleagues compared usage rates during three one-week periods during the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

For purposes of the study, the researchers called “fear week” the period of heightened public concern before the disease was actually present in the community. “Flu week” when the pandemic was active and “control week” was a period prior to the onset of concern.

The study found compared to the control week, the number of parents who brought their children to the hospital increased by 16 percent.

However, when H1N1 really did arrive, the number of children brought to the emergency room increased by 22. 4. percent.

“Our study shows that public fear of disease, even when actual disease is not present, can bring about the problems of emergency department overcrowding,” McDonnell said in a statement.

The findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver.

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