Swine Flu Has ‘Pandemic Potential’, WHO Director-General Says
The recent outbreak of swine flu is a public health emergency of "pandemic potential," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said on Sunday during a conference call, in which the agency urged governments to step up surveillance, "but stopped short of recommending specific measures to stop the disease," AP/Google.com report (Jordans, AP/Google.com. 4/26). "We do not yet have a complete picture of the epidemiology or the risk, including possible spread beyond the currently affected areas," she said, adding that this is a "serious situation that must be watched very carefully" (Partlow/Stein, Washington Post, 4/26). A WHO panel will meet on Monday, a day earlier than previously expected, to consider whether it is necessary to raise the level of its global pandemic alert, according to Reuters (Lynn, Reuters, 4/27).
According to the AP/Google.com: "Mexico officials say the flu strain may have sickened 1,614 people since April 13 but laboratory testing to confirm that and how many truly died from it - at least 22 so far out of the 103 suspected deaths - is taking time" (Plyas, AP/Google.com, 4/27).
"Exactly how the disease is spread remains a mystery, though it is known to be able to move from one human being to another," reports the Wall Street Journal. The virus is a combination of genetic materials from the swine, bird and human viruses (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 4/27).
Twenty cases have been confirmed in the U.S., prompting the government to declare a public health emergency on Sunday (McNeil, New York Times, 4/27). Canadian officials confirmed six cases among people who had all traveled to Mexico (AFP/Google.com, 4/26). Spain on Monday confirmed one case and is investigating 17 other potential infections (Plyas, AP/Google, 4/27). Other suspected cases have been reported in New Zealand, France and Israel, which highlights the potential role that international air travel could play in the spread of the virus, according to AFP/Google.com (AFP/Google.com, 4/26).
The International Air Transport Association asked international airlines to review their health emergency plans and noted that WHO and air travel agencies have already drawn up industry guidelines. So far, no airlines have announced plans to cancel flights to and from Mexico as a result of the outbreak, Dow Jones/CNNMoney.com reports (Dow Jones/CNNMoney.com, 4/26). However, many governments have announced plans to take extra travel precautions as part of their response activities. Reuters on Monday examined the steps that countries worldwide are taking to prevent the situation from escalating (Reuters, 4/26).
In Latin America, officials from Brazil, Chile, Colombia Ecuador and Peru announced plans aimed at preventing the spread of the outbreak, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports in an article examining the region's reactions to the outbreak. The Pan American Health Organization said it will send teams of experts to Mexico and will put measures in place to help member countries expand epidemiological monitoring, diagnosis and medical response capabilities (Latin American Herald Tribune, 4/27). Xinhua on Monday also examined the response to swine flu in Latin America.
In order to effectively deal with the situation in Mexico, the World Bank said it would provide the country with more than $200 million in loans. In addition, the Mexican Education Ministry said that all educational institutions in affected areas will be closed until May 6 (del Palacio, Xinhua, 4/26).
There is also concern about the situation in Asia, which has been at the forefront of the avian influenza and SARS outbreaks in recent years, AFP/Google.com reports. South Korea and Taiwan recently announced plans to implement stricter quarantine checks for international travelers (AFP/Google.com. 4/26). Other countries have tightened rules on pork imports (AP/Google.com, 4/26), though people do not catch the virus by eating pork products (New York Times, 4/27).
According to Martin Centron, director of global migration and quarantine for CDC, health officials would like to determine how many mild cases of the virus Mexico has. "We may just be looking at the tip of the iceberg, which would give you a skewed initial estimate of the case fatality rate," he said. The New York Times outlined health officials other concerns, which include the age of the people who have died and the lethality of the virus in Mexico (New York Times, 4/27).email subscription.