Swine flu: recent developments worldwide

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The H1N1 swine flu virus has now spread to 66 different countries throughout the globe, with at least 19,273 confirmed cases and 117 deaths having been reported according to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) tally. A majority of the cases were reported by the United States, which now has at least 10,053 confirmed infections from the disease.

Egypt, Bulgaria, and Nicaragua each reported their first case, while Lebanon reported three.

The WHO's pandemic alert level is at the fifth level, on a scale of one to six. In order for a transition for the highest level to be made, the organisation must confirm a significant spread of swine flu in at least two continents. The WHO has recently been under pressure to include the severity of a disease spread to its criteria, not just the geographical spread of a virus. The WHO said that its committee had agreed that a statement on the strength of an epidemic should be made in any future pandemic declarations.

"There was a broad consensus on the importance of including information on severity in future announcements," the WHO said in a statement.

Australian health minister Nicola Roxon said that there are currently 878 confirmed cases of the influenza in Australia. The bulk of the cases have been in the state of Victoria, which has 752 infected persons. New South Wales is the second, with 74 infections.

Roxon predicted that the swine flu will be a problem in the next two winters, despite efforts to curb its spread.

"I would have thought we're not at the halfway point, given that we still don't have an extensive spread in Australia," Roxon said. "We are only part way, but closer, to having a vaccine and we are still prepared to put all our efforts into containing the disease as much as possible."

Roxon said that Australia's hospitals will start taking samples from people infected with the flu to monitor its spread. She said that "it gives us the tools to monitor how much of the flu in the coming weeks is seasonal flu, how much is actually this H1N1 strain, and we will simply have to keep monitoring that over the coming months." Roxon added that "this is a time to be cautious, where the combination of the flus might turn it into something much less virulent or something more virulent."

Meanwhile, Singapore has urged its residents not to travel to Victoria. A warning at the government website said that Melbourne and Victoria were affected by the disease, and advised any Singapore residents returning from those areas to keep an eye on their health for swine flu symptoms.

The health ministry of Brazil announced on Tuesday that the number of infected people in the country has been increased to 23 after two new cases were confirmed. 25 people are also suspected to be infected.

The ministry said that both new patients are in stable condition, and had both been infected after traveling to the U.S.

Of Brazil's H1N1 cases, nine are in São Paulo, seven in Rio de Janeiro, four in Santa Catarina, and one apiece in Rio Grande do Sul, Tocantins, and Minas Gerais. Seven of the cases had been transmitted domestically.

A map showing the spread of the swine flu worldwide.

██ Confirmed cases followed by death

██ Confirmed cases

██ Unconfirmed or suspected cases

See also: H1N1 live map, WHO updates

1,795 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 were reported in three territories and nine provinces of Canada as of Wednesday. The federal health minister, Leona Aglukkaq, pledged on Friday to give CA$10.8 million to help fight the flu. The Canadian government is creating a new swine flu network to help connect health officials with researchers.

"These projects will have huge benefits [...] They will help public health officials across Canada in their efforts to plan, design and evaluate interventions to control the spread of the virus and protect the health of Canadians," Aglukkaq said.

Almost four hundred swine flu cases in the South American country of Chile have been reported, local health officials say.

The Institute of Public Health in Santiago reported that 393 cases were confirmed in the country in a statement on its website. The institute said that while 98% of cases were only "mild", about two percent of all infections were fatal.

Swine flu cases in Chile have increased twofold within the last seven days.

New Zealand now has eleven confirmed cases of the swine flu. A further 63 are in quarantine and have been prescribed the antiviral drug oseltamivir (which goes by the trade name of Tamiflu).

Health officials from the Philippines said that seven more people tested positive for the influenza on Thursday, increasing the number of confirmed infections from the disease in the country to 29. There are a further 47 laboratory results pending confirmation.

Francisco Duque, the Philippine's health secretary, said six of the cases were in Filipinos who had returned from visits to the U.S.

"With further characterization of the virus in our local cases, if we see that A/H1N1 poses no severe threat and is self-limited in most cases, we may be seeing a shift in our control strategy to outpatient and home management of patients showing only mild symptoms," Duque said.

Russia has reported its first case of the flu, in an unidentified 28-year-old man who had recently been in New York. The man had initially passed a medical check when he arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport last Monday, but began to feel ill two days later and was hospitalised the same day. It is currently uncertain how he obtained the virus.

Russian officials are currently screening flights that have departed from "countries of concern", including all countries in the Americas, as well as Japan and Spain. People arriving on flights from such countries have their temperatures checked by remote sensors, and those with high temperatures are hospitalised and tested for the H1N1 virus. Over a score of people so far have been identified as having symptoms of the disease, but all of them were cleared after later tests.

Turkey's first case happened on May 16 when a passenger flying from United States to Iraq through a connected flight over Turkey entered to İstanbul Atatürk International Airport. With the latest arrival of 2 Turkish passengers from New York and Toronto on June 3, the number of confirmed cases increased to 10.

The Turkish Ministry of Health reported that no infections related for human-to-human transfer of the virus are observed until now and the hospitalized cases are treated in a dedicated hospital in Istanbul.

486 people have been confirmed as infected with the H1N1 virus in the United Kingdom. 27 new cases in England were confirmed recently. Five people in the Glasgow area have been hospitalised. Three of them are in intensive care, although one man recently improved and was moved into to high dependency. A 44-year-old woman, who is said to have had underlying health conditions, is also in high dependency, at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, in Paisley.

Scotland is the part of the UK with the highest ratio of affected people to population.

The U.S. is the country with the highest number of confirmed swine flu infections. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that at least 27 people have died from the virus, and a further 13,271 cases have been reported throughout the country. All fifty states, as well as two territories, have reported cases.

The state of Wisconsin has been the worst hit, with 2,217 infections, as well as three additional suspected cases.

"What is unusual today is not that there has been a death from influenza. Over 37,000 people die in the United States each year of seasonal influenza, and the rates of death and illness from this novel H1N1 strain does not appear to be radically different," said Seth Foldy, a Wisconsin health official. "What is unusual this year is that influenza continues to be widely circulating in Wisconsin and many, many other states this late in the year."

Vietnam's fourth swine flu infection was confirmed on Thursday, in a six-year-old girl in Vietnam's capital of Ho Chi Minh City, a local media report said. The child is currently receiving treatment. All of the infected patients had recently traveled to the United States.


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