Flu season results in heightened demand for ECMO therapy at Penn State Hershey

While many people who contract the flu are able to make a full recovery on their own, the virus can prove life-threatening to others. This flu season, 14 patients at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center have required a form of advanced medical intervention reserved for critically ill patients.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) uses a pump to circulate blood through a heart-lung bypass system outside of the patient’s body. The process oxygenates the blood while allowing the heart and/or lungs to rest and recover, such as in cases of respiratory failure caused by severe flu-related virus.

The flu patients placed on ECMO therapy in recent months at Penn State Hershey include 12 adults and two children. They have been referred to the medical center from as far away as Syracuse, N.Y. Some of the other patients have originated from Lancaster, York, Chambersburg, Scranton and the Lehigh Valley.

“We are fortunate to have this type of equipment here and the support of a well-trained team of people ready to provide patients access to such an advanced, life-saving therapy,” said Dr. Aly El-Banayosy, director of mechanical circulatory support at Penn State Hershey.

El-Banayosy said each patient is on ECMO therapy for anywhere from four to 16 days, with 10 days being the average.

“In addition to influenza complications, we regularly use ECMO therapy for other acute conditions that damage the heart or lungs and for which all other medical interventions have failed,” El-Banayosy said. He says ECMO therapy is sometimes used after a severe heart attack, after cardiac surgery, following a severe infection of the heart muscle, in select resuscitation cases and prior to a heart transplant.

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Last Updated February 11, 2014