Francine Rushton, 47, lost her life to the H1N1 swine flu on June 13th, and her death may very well have been preventable. Prior to her death, Rushton had twice visited the Jordan Valley Medical Center and both times she received a rapid diagnostic test to determine if she had swine flu. Both tests came back negative.
The rapid diagnostic tests, however, have a very high false negative result rate. But since she did not test positive, she did not qualify to receive Tamiflu treatment under state and federal guidelines, despite the high false negative rates and even though she had flu like symptoms and she lived with her mother who had tested positive for swine flu.
Rushton’s mother tested positive for swine flu on May 30th. Within 24 hours, Rushton was exhibiting the same symptoms so she went for her first test on May 31st. She was not getting better so she returned for her second test three days later. According to Rushton’s brother, Craig Whitehead, family members begged for Tamiflu therapy despite the results of the second test because of Rushton’s symptoms and because the therapy helped Rushton’s mother. Doctors at the hospital refused and sent Rushton on her way.
Another three days passed and Rushton’s health continued to decline. She returned to Jordan Valley and although she tested negative a third time for swine flu, doctors admitted her to the hospital. On June 9th, Rushton was transferred to Intermountain Medical Center (IMC) in critical condition. There she was tested for swine flu yet again and this time, the result was positive. But despite the heroic efforts of those at IMC, treatment at that point could not save Rushton.
The rapid flu antigen tests have an accuracy rate of between 50 and 70 percent as opposed to the laboratory completed virus tests. The low accuracy rate is one reason that some suggest doctors should not rely on the antigen tests alone when deciding whether to treat patients as if they have swine flu. Dr. Robert Rolfs, Utah state epidemiologist, has indicated that since the swine flu is now so prevalent in the state, anyone who exhibits flu like symptoms (sore throat, cough, fever), should be presumed to have swine flu until there is concrete evidence to the contrary. Had such a course been followed by doctors treating Francine Rushton, she may very well still be alive.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.