Sunday, May 3, 2009

Media reports suggest that the deadly H1N1 swine flu virus, which has killed sixteen people and infected hundreds worldwide, is continuing to spread. According to the United Nations’ World Health Organisation, there are a total of 331 confirmed cases of swine flu throughout the world, with hundreds more suspected cases.

The WHO raised its pandemic alert level to its fifth level on Friday, on a scale of one to six, and has said that it is possible a transition to the highest level will be made.


The Canadian government increased the number of swine flu incidents in their country to 51 on Friday, with seventeen new cases having been reported throughout the day. Canada now has the third highest number of swine flu cases reported by country, following Mexico and the United States. “All of them [swine flu cases] are relatively mild,” said Gordon Campbell, the premier of British Columbia. “Unfortunately, we may see some deaths. It’s important for us to recognize that.”

The breakdown of cases in Canada by province is as follows: fifteen in British Columbia, fourteen in Nova Scotia, twelve in Ontario, eight in Alberta, one in New Brunswick, and one in Quebec.

Health authorities in Alberta said they have found the first human-to-animal transmission of the virus. Dr. Brain Evans said a Canadian who returned from Mexico on April 12 infected a pig farm that he worked at. Around two hundred pigs have been quarantined and are now waiting to recover. At this time, there is no evidence of humans getting the virus from infected pigs.

Despite assurances from public health officials that the H1N1 virus is not transmitted to humans from animals, the Egyptian government has ordered all 400,000 pigs in the country to be slaughtered, a move that the UN has denounced as “a real mistake”.

Medical staff are to check passengers arriving at Cairo airport from Mexico, and monitor them during their stay in Egypt. No cases of swine flu have yet been reported in the country.

German officials have said that a nurse living in Bavaria obtained the virus, apparently contracting it from a patient that had recently visited Mexico. The nurse has since recovered. Germany has had the second case of human-to-human transmission of the virus, other than Mexico, raising concerns of a possible pandemic. Spain was the first country to have reported a transmission of the flu from a person that had not visited Mexico.

HAVE YOUR SAY
What do you think of the responses to the outbreak? Is enough being done to prevent it? Or is it an overreaction?
Add or view comments

Hong Kong reported its first confirmed case of the swine flu on Friday in a 25-year-old man who had travelled from Mexico through Shanghai. The 300 residents of the hotel he was staying in have been placed under quarantine. Media reports say that police officers wearing masks are now guarding the exits of the building. Health officials say that the hotel will remain sealed off for a week, and the Tamilflu antiviral drug given to all residents and staff inside.

The infected man is now reported to be in Hong Kong’s Princess Margaret Hospital, where he is in stable condition.

“I assure you the Hong Kong government will try its best to conquer the virus. I stress we don’t need to panic,” said Donald Tsang, the Hong Kong Chief Executive. Chen Zhu, the Chinese health minister, said that it was probable the disease would soon spread to mainland China.

Health officials from Mexico, the country where the virus is suspected to have originated, have confirmed fifteen deaths and 328 infections from the swine flu. On Friday, the government began a shutdown of the country for five days, in an effort to stop the disease from spreading. It has encouraged non-essential public facilities and government operations to close down.

Several airlines and cruise lines have cancelled or suspended destinations in Mexico. Continental Airlines lowered the number of Mexican-bound flights by half, citing reduced demand for tickets. Carnival Cruise lines, meanwhile, has cancelled all its stops at the country’s ports until May 11. Previously, the cruise line had suspended all of its visits until May 4.

Jose Angel Cordova said that the number of new cases and hospitalisations from the disease seemed to be slowing down; only 46 persons with severe symptoms of the influenza were admitted on Thursday, less than a fourth of the 212 patients that had been admitted on April 20. Cordova called the figures “encouraging”.

Miguel Angel Lezana, the chief epidemiologist in the country, has accused the WHO of taking too much time to respond to Mexico’s warning. Lezana said that his centre had informed a regional branch of the WHO of a sharp increase in sicknesses on April 16, but the WHO had not taken any action for eight days.

The WHO rejected the accusations. “There are cases of influenza all the time, but once we knew that this illness was caused by a new influenza virus […] we moved into operation within a matter of hours,” said Thomas Abrahams, a spokesman for the WHO. “One of the things we are doing internally is documenting everything we have done, when we did it and how we have done it.”

In a televised address, Mexican president Felipe Calderon encouraged people to stay at home with their families, saying that there is “no place as safe as your own home.”

136 suspected cases of the influenza have been reported in New Zealand as of Friday, the government said. The number is a sharp increase over the 25 suspected cases on Thursday. There are currently three confirmed and thirteen probable cases of the flu, according to Health Minister Tony Ryall.

Officials stated that a passenger that had arrived from North America on April 19 had tested positive for influenza A, similar to the swine flu virus.

Julia Peters, the top medical official of Auckland, said that “we are involved today in an extensive contact-tracing exercise with his place of work.” The passenger had arrived on the 19th, but did not start displaying symptoms of the flu until April 22 and did not seek medical help until April 28, when he and his family were placed into a quarantine.

John Odey, the Environment Minister of the African country of Nigeria, stated on Tuesday that the government has ordered all ships and aircraft arriving in Nigeria are to be checked and cleaned, in a move to prevent the entrance of the flu into the nation.

The Nigerian government has advised ill persons wishing to travel out of the country to delay such trips, while those who have returned from abroad and have the symptoms of the flu are urged to immediately seek medical help.

New cases of the swine flu have been reported on Friday in 30 US states, including Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The total number of cases in the country has reached 226, with one confirmed death in a 22-month-old boy in Houston, Texas.

In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, approximately 400 schools have been shut down across the country, 300 of them in Texas and a further 62 in Alabama. All high school state track-and-field championships in the two states have been cancelled. In addition, Fort Worth’s annual Mayfest, which attracts about 200,000 people over four days, has been called off.

The US has said it will purchase thirteen million packages of antiviral treatment, and export 400,000 of those to Mexico.

An aide to Steven Chu, the US Energy Secretary, has reportedly fallen ill from the virus after helping arrange President Barack Obama’s trip to Mexico. However, the White House says that Obama is not at risk of obtaining the flu.