Swine flu reported in more countries; WHO warns of possible pandemic risk

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New cases of the deadly swine flu virus have been reported around the world in recent days, sparking fear of a global pandemic. The United Nations has warned that the disease can not be contained. Over ninety cases of the flu have been reported throughout the world.

The outbreak, which started in Mexico, has now spread across the globe, with confirmed cases having been reported in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand and Israel. Mexican health officials have raised the death toll from the virus to 152, with at least 1,614 suspected cases being under observation. The United States also reporting its first death, a Mexican boy, visiting relatives in Texas. He had previously been in Mexico City and had had another undetermined illness prior to his arrival in the United States.

Spain says it has confirmed the first case of swine flu in a person who has not travelled to Mexico.

Keiji Fukuda, the chief of the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO), has said that the outbreak could possibly turn into a pandemic, and encouraged countries to "take the opportunity to prepare" against such a possibility. Fukuda also warned that "containment is not a feasible operation".

At the same time, the UN chief noted that it is still too early to declare a pandemic, even with the number of new cases increasing. "The evolution into a pandemic cannot be considered inevitable, but of course we are taking this possibility very seriously. Countries should really take this opportunity to prepare themselves for the possibility for a pandemic," he said.

In response to the recent spread of the flu, the WHO recently raised its pandemic alert level from three to four, stopping two levels short of declaring a full pandemic.

A WHO emergency committee recently cancelled a meeting to decide whether to move the alert level to the fifth level. "If we have a confirmation from the United States or Canada, we could move to phase 5," said Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the WHO. "We are still at phase four because we do not have incontrovertible evidence this is an efficient spreader."

A portion of the cases appear to have been obtained from human-to-human transmission outside of Mexico. Such transmission is frequently an early indicator of a coming pandemic, and experts expect the WHO to raise its pandemic alert up to the fifth level if such transmissions continue to occur.

The WHO has confirmed that the disease is not transmitted from animals or meat. "There is no danger form eating pork," Hartl said. "If you cook pork well, if you cook all meat well, it kills all virus[es]," Hartl said.

In the United States, fifty people have fallen ill from swine flu. California has confirmed at least thirteen cases, three in Texas, two in Kansas, and one case in Ohio. New York has confirmed 28 incidents. The number is expected to rise, as confirmations from testing are still ongoing.

Spread of the H1N1 swine flu virus around the world:
Black: confirmed deaths
Red: confirmed cases
Orange: unconfirmed cases.

"The human swine flu outbreak continues to grow in the United States and internationally," said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a bulletin report. "Today, CDC reports additional cases of confirmed swine influenza and a number of hospitalizations of swine flu patients. Internationally, the situation is more serious too, with additional countries reporting confirmed cases of swine flu."

New Zealand officials reported that eleven of the country's residents that had recently travelled to Mexico are now showing sypmtoms of the virus. Three of the infected persons had been confirmed to have the virus, Health Minister Tony Ryall stated.

The health ministry of Israel confirmed two cases of the flu in travellers. South Korea has reported a case in a tourist visiting Mexico, while Spain has recently confirmed two more incidents.

Meanwhile, the situation in the epicentre of the outbreak, Mexico, is deterioriating. Mexican officials have told restaurants to serve only takeaway food, has closed schools until May 8, and placed Mexico City, the country's capital, under a high alert. Many public events have been cancelled, and masks have been given out to passengers on trains. Mexico City Health Secretary Armando Ahued stated that 6,610 people with symptoms of swine flu were admitted to hospitals on Monday, but only 29 had remained hospitalised.

The WHO on Tuesday stated that it would not endorse travel bans to attempt to stop the spread of the virus. "Border controls don't work. Screening doesn't work," said the WHO spokesman, Hartl, adding that infected persons may not show any symptoms of the disease when at a border crossing or airport. "Certainly, if you feel that you are ill, you should not travel, in any case, to anywhere," Hartl said.

Among the symptoms of the swine flu include temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, diarrhea, vomiting, and heavy coughing. Many of the fatalities from the disease were forty years old or younger, not very young or old persons that are usually more susceptible to influenza.


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