The Health Ministry announced Sunday that swine flu patients will from now on be treated by the four health maintenance organizations instead of the hospitals.
Patients should go the hospital only if HMO clinics are closed - i.e., at nights, on weekends and holidays - or if they have been ordered to do so by their doctor, the new directive said.
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Sunday that the spread of swine flu has made him concerned about the upcoming Maccabiah games.
"Some 5,000 athletes from around the world are expected to come here," he said. "I think we should examine them all before they arrive in the country. I don't want to reach a situation in which another 5,000 people come here and just increase [incidences of] the disease."
The ministry decided to alter treatment procedures both because the disease has been spreading (in Israel and worldwide), making hospitalization more expensive, and because it now seems to be a fairly mild strain of the flu, which renders hospitalization unnecessary.
So far, the ministry said, 271 Israelis have been diagnosed with the disease, yet none has been more than mildly ill. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has reported some 28,000 cases of swine flu worldwide, of which only 144 have resulted in death - with 108 of these incidents occurring in Mexico at the very start of the outbreak.
"Even though the disease is contagious, making it likely that it will continue to spread both in Israel and worldwide, this is a relatively mild illness," the ministry statement said. "However, complications cannot be ruled out, especially among high-risk groups: babies, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses."
The ministry noted that it has prepared kits that will be given to every person diagnosed with swine flu. The kits include mouth and nose masks for the patient and his family, along with instructions on how to keep the disease from spreading.
The ministry's statement said that anyone who experiences a high fever (38 degrees Celsius or higher), muscle pains, shortness of breath or nasal congestion within seven days of returning from abroad - or who has been in close contact with a suspected or confirmed flu patient - should go to a doctor to check if he has swine flu.
The Maccabi HMO announced that it is setting up a telephone hotline, which people who suspect they have the disease can call to determine whether they should see a doctor.
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