Flu Watch: I could have infected family

by
Flu Watch
I could have infected family
Hospital mistakenly tells patient he’s free of H1N1 & discharges him

By Ng Wan Ching

July 04, 2009 Print Ready Email Article

HE FELT relieved. He thought he had beaten the Influenza A(H1N1) bug when he was told to go home.

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TNP PICTURES: JONATHAN CHOO TNP PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: SIMON ANG

But the hospital called him the next day and told him there had been a mistake: He was H1N1-positive.

The reason the hospital had discharged him was because it had mixed him up with someone else who had tested negative for H1N1.

He then had a choice – report back again or stay at home and isolate himself. He chose to return to hospital, and an ambulance was sent to pick him up from his home.

On Sunday, the 22-year-old national serviceman had come down with flu-like symptoms after returning home from NS duty.

On Monday, he went to a polyclinic. A 993 ambulance was called and he was taken to Changi General Hospital (CGH).

On Tuesday, when he was told he was H1N1-negative and discharged from CGH, he was very happy.

He went home thinking it was just the seasonal flu.

Then on Wednesday morning, CGH staff called him to tell him of the mix-up.

‘I was shocked, frustrated and a little angry,’ said the NSF in a phone interview with The New Paper. He asked not to be identified.

He chose to return to hospital as he was concerned that he would spread the virus to others, especially his family members.

‘I don’t mind if I kena (get it), but I don’t want to be held responsible for spreading it to the public or my family. I would feel guilty and self-conscious,’ he said.

On Tuesday, he had gone home by public bus.

He had also spent a night at home with his family members.

‘I could have infected the people on the bus and at home,’ he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, a 993 ambulance picked him up from home and took him back to CGH.

He is now in an isolation ward and has been given Tamiflu. He has recovered from the worst of his symptoms.

On Monday he had a fever of 39.7 deg C. He also had a cough and a runny nose. Now, only the cough remains.

‘The hospital told me that I would be able to go home after seven days in isolation,’ he said.

The hospital has admitted it was a mistake on their part.

‘One of our staff had mistaken him for another patient who had a negative test result, as they had similar sounding names,’ said a hospital spokesman.

The hospital said the national serviceman was discharged on Tuesday with medical leave for a day, to rest at home.

The other patient whose name sounded similar to his, also went home.

‘We notified him immediately when the mistake was discovered. He was brought back in a 993 ambulance and admitted to the hospital on Wednesday. He is currently in our isolation ward and is doing well,’ said the spokesman. (See report, right.)

Family affected

The patient’s two sisters and mother decided, on the day that they were told of the H1N1 news, to quarantine themselves.

One of the patient’s sisters is a primary school teacher.

She had just finished her training at the National Institute of Education and was starting to teach in the lower primary classes when the school term started.

‘On Wednesday, I reached school some time after 11am and I was in the staff room when I received a call from my younger sister to say that my brother had been tested positive for H1N1,’ she said.

She was dismayed and immediately informed her vice-principal.

It was then decided that she should go home and quarantine herself.

‘By that time, I had exposed myself to fewer than 10 people. Luckily, I am teaching the afternoon session, so I had not gone to any classes or met any students yet,’ said the mother-tongue teacher who is in her 20s.

She took a taxi home.

Her younger sister who is 17 and studying at ITE also decided to quarantine herself.

Her mother, who operates a stall at a school canteen, decided to quarantine herself and close her stall for seven days.

‘My mother will lose money during the days when the stall is closed,’ said the teacher.

‘But it’s better than being the cause of more infections.’

Her father and another brother had very limited or no contact with the NSF.

‘So my father has continued going to work as usual at the warehouse and my elder brother has gone off (for his reservist training),’ she said.

They said they did not receive any call from the authorities to tell them what to do after CGH called to tell their brother of the mistake.

‘I had to call the hospital on Wednesday afternoon to find out what we should do,’ said the teacher.

She said a nurse told her that they should quarantine themselves for at least 48 hours and observe themselves for any flu symptoms.

The CGH spokesman confirmed this.

‘It was the family who called the hospital and were given some advice by our staff,’ said the spokesman.

Around 10pm on Wednesday, someone from the Ministry of Health called the family.

‘The MOH person told us to call 993 if we develop any flu symptoms,’ she said.

So far, the only symptom she has observed for herself is a runny nose.

‘We are also staying together in one room and keeping away from my father. Hopefully, none of us will get it,’ she said.


SUNDAY: NSF comes down with flu symptoms.

MONDAY: He goes to polyclinic. Doctor calls 993 to send him to Changi General Hospital. He is swabbed and warded.

TUESDAY: CGH tells him he has tested negative for H1N1 and discharges him.

WEDNESDAY: CGH calls to tell him it has made a mistake and that he is H1N1 positive. 993 ambulance takes him back to CGH. He is now in an isolation ward there.

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