Swine Flu Outbreak: New Cases, Safety Measures, Level 4 upgrade
The death toll from the swine flu outbreak in Mexico rose to 149 people, with 1600 suspected cases as the result of the recent H1N1 virus outbreak. There are confirmed cases in the U.S., Canada, and now Spain. New Zealand, Israel, France, Brazil and the U.K. have yet to confirm that the suspected cases are those of swine flu. No confirmed cases of swine flu have surfaced in Central Europe or Asia yet. So far all deaths have been limited to Mexico.
The U.S. has confirmed 20 new cases in New York City on Monday, according to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) spokesman, bringing the total number of confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S. to 40. Those affected are 7-54 years of age.
The UN Health Agency is contemplating raising the pandemic alert level beyond current level 3, which corresponds to “an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus causing sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people, but not resulting in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks.” According to WHO, raising the alert to level 4 would signify “verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause community-level outbreaks.” Levels 5-6 would correspond to the worldwide pandemic.
There are now reports suggesting that the WHO may raise its swine flu pandemic alert to level 4 today signaling the aggravated threat of the viral spread globally.
The Emergency Committee, established in compliance with the International Health Regulations (2005), held its second meeting on 27 April 2009. The Committee considered available data on confirmed outbreaks of A/H1N1 swine influenza in the United States of America, Mexico, and Canada. The Committee also considered reports of possible spread to additional countries. On the advice of the Committee, the WHO Director-General has raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from the current phase 3 to phase 4 (from the WHO website).
There are reports the World Health Organization will raise its pandemic alert to an unprecedented level today, saying that swine flu is spreading across North America.
The suspected death toll from the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico rose Monday to 149 people as health authorities cancelled all schools across the country until May 6.
Since the first case of swine flu was reported, 1,995 people have been hospitalized with serious cases of pneumonia, said Cordova, and 1,070 of these people have been released.
The World Health Organization could raise its pandemic alert level to phase 4 or even to phase 5 -- indicating a deadly swine flu was spreading significantly among humans, a WHO spokesman said on Monday.
Going to phase 4 on the WHO's 6-point scale would mean the WHO believes that a potential pandemic virus has shown it could transmit easily from person to person.
Moving it directly to phase 5 would indicate that the disease was already spreading significantly among humans
Travel restrictions and preventative measures currently taken by governments:
--United Nations does not recommend any travel restrictions yet.
--European Union's health commissioner is asking Europeans to postpone non-essential travel to the United States or Mexico for now.
--Mexico: advising population to stay indoors, wear breathing masks and not to mix in public spaces. Schools were shut down and public events canceled in Mexico during the weekend.
The Mexico City government is considering a complete shutdown if the death toll keeps rising, including all public transport. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said surgical masks were being distributed at subway and bus stops across the city.
--Hong Kong: travel ban to Mexico and the immediate detention at a hospital of anyone who arrived with a fever and symptoms of a respiratory illness after traveling in the previous seven days through a city with a laboratory-confirmed outbreak.
--China, Russia and Taiwan: plan to put anyone returning from travel in Mexico and North America with symptoms of the deadly virus under quarantine.
--Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore are installing devices to test the temperatures of passengers arriving from Mexico and North America, similar to the devices that were monitoring infrared body heat levels during the 2003 SARS epidemic.
--Italy, Poland and Venezuela also advised their citizens to postpone travel to affected areas of Mexico and the United States.
U.S. officials will begin asking travelers about illness if they are entering the country from areas with confirmed swine flu cases. Passengers would no be barred from getting into the U.S., but they could be referred for further testing, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a White House briefing.
Many countries have issued travel warnings for Mexico and the United States.
Many Asian countries have put in place quarantine and precautionary plans which were used during the SARS epidemic and bird flu outbreaks.
Canada still has not gone above the six swine flu cases that it has confirmed yesterday in two of its provinces. Although the symptoms in sickened individuals are considered mild so far, the Canadian health officials are fearing worst is still to come.
Canada’s major city Toronto that was in the center of the 2003 SARS epidemic says it’s ready to tackle the swine flu outbreak efficiently.
"We still don't have any cases in Toronto or the rest of the province of Ontario," Toronto Public Health's Rishma Govani said yesterday.
"We've been planning for years for a pandemic," she said. "It's obviously unpredictable and the situation is always changing ... but we are a dedicated team.
"If it were to escalate, our whole staff is prepared," Govani said. "We have the experience with some of the lessons of SARS in 2003."
Meanwhile some Canadians are changing their vacation plans to avoid contracting the deadly virus. Canadians are changing destinations last minute and some air carriers like Air Canada and WestJet are waving “change” fees for people traveling to and from Mexico. Similar actions have been taken by U.S. Airways and Continental Airlines in the U.S.
President Obama has responded to the news of the swine flu outbreak saying the spread of swine flu is a cause for concern but "not a cause of alarm.” He said his administration is staying on top of the problem.
U.S. President Barack Obama says the spread of swine flu is a cause for concern but "not a cause of alarm" and he's staying on top of the problem.
Obama told a gathering of scientists in Washington today that the administration is "closely monitoring" cases of swine flu, how many people have it and what the threat is.
Obama also said the American people can expect to get regular and frequent updates about what Washington is doing.
Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reassured the government is monitoring the swine flu situation and will provide extra health funding if needed.
"That is something that will be done if it's necessary to do it," Flaherty told reporters in Toronto. "But right now it's a question of monitoring the situation."
Yesterday, Mexico’s finance minister Agustin Carstens stated that Mexico will receive loans from the World Bank for immediate needs in the fight against the flu outbreak as well as to support Mexican economy while the country is combating the flu crisis.
Finance Minister Agustin Carstens said there’s “high potential” the outbreak will disrupt the economy, with hotels and restaurants being the hardest hit.
Pork import bans
Due to the fact that the swine flu is believed to have spread to humans from pigs, pork import bans from affected North American countries are being currently enacted. Such measures are precautionary given that the virus has been found to spread not just animal to human but from human to human. CDC also states on its website that the virus cannot be acquired from properly cooked pork.
Russia banned the import of meat products from Mexico, California, Texas and Kansas. South Korea said it would increase the number of its influenza virus checks on pork products from Mexico and the U.S
Serbia has banned pork imports after the outbreak of the deadly swine flu virus that has so far killed at least 100 people in Mexico.
China has banned hog and pork product imports from Mexico and parts of the United States with immediate effect.
The United Arab Emirates is considering banning imports of pork products from Mexico and the United States.