WHO Calls Third Emergency Swine Influenza Meeting; U.S. Death Reported
WHO on Wednesday called a third emergency meeting to examine whether the agency should again raise the influenza alert level, AP/Google.com reports. "The director-general has seen a jump in cases, and she wants to have that evaluated by the outside experts," WHO spokesperson Dick Thompson said. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general, will convene the emergency committee by teleconference after the agency holds a "scientific review" of the outbreak to determine exactly what is known about how the disease spreads, how it affects human health and how it can be treated (Jordans, AP/Google.com, 4/29).
Richard Besser, CDC acting director, on Wednesday said that a 2-year-old has died of swine influenza in Texas. It is the first death confirmed outside Mexico, CNN reports. Besser said that there are tens of thousands of seasonal flu-related deaths each year, "And so this flu virus in the United States, as we're looking at it, is not acting very differently from what we saw during the flu season" (CNN, 4/29).
Germany and Austria confirmed cases of swine influenza on Wednesday, according to AP/Google.com. In all cases, the people diagnosed with swine influenza had traveled through Mexico (McGroarty, AP/Google.com, 4/29). The virus has also been suspected in Costa Rica (CNN, 4/29).
In a WHO statement issued on Tuesday, the agency said that seven countries have officially reported cases of swine influenza. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection including seven deaths. The statement did not include information about the death in the U.S. According to the WHO, "The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths Canada (6), New Zealand (3), the United Kingdom (2), Israel (2) and Spain (2)" (WHO release, 4/28).
Mexico City Clinics 'Overwhelmed' With Suspected Swine Influenza Cases
NPR on Tuesday examined reaction to the swine influenza outbreak in Mexico City. Medical facilities in the capital are "struggling to keep up with the number of residents showing up with flu symptoms," and people are concerned about treatment options and the progression of the outbreak, NPR reports (Kahn, NPR, 4/28). Mexican authorities have said that anyone who has the virus will receive treatment, but there is a "growing sense of alarm," Australia's ABC News reports. Even hospitals outside Mexico City are "overrun by people coming in with general coughs and colds," according to ABC News.
The Mexican government said the first suspected case of swine influenza was detected in the state of Oaxaca, but they have not provided more information about how the outbreak started or given details about the people who died, ABC News reports. President Felipe Calderon issued an emergency decree over the weekend authorizing health workers to isolate and enter the homes of people who have the virus. However, the health minister said his department did not have the ability to fully implement the decree (Vincent, ABC News, 4/28).
USAID on Tuesday announced that it will provide an additional $5 million to the WHO and PAHO in emergency support for efforts to detect and contain the disease in Mexico, according to a USAID release. Alonzo Fulgham, acting USAID administrator, said, "Since 2005, USAID has committed $543 million to support pandemic prevention and preparedness across the globe." He added that the $5 million is "specifically aimed at helping to control the transmission of swine flu in Mexico, through advanced disease surveillance and control measures" (USAID release, 4/28).
Conference Explores Africa's Response to Swine Influenza, Other Pandemics
Health professionals from several international organizations and 11 countries met on Tuesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to explore how to confront a possible outbreak of swine influenza in Africa, VOA News reports. The U.S. government-sponsored pandemic conference was planned before the recent swine influenza outbreak, but in the wake of recent developments, including the WHO's decision on Monday to raise the pandemic alert level from phase 3 to phase 4, it has "taken on new urgency," according to VOA News.
Conference organizer Greg Pappas, a physician who is affiliated with the humanitarian group InterAction, said although it is too early to determine whether the current outbreak will become a global pandemic, developing countries need to prepare for the possibility of future pandemics. "It may not happen this year this meeting is about, preparedness," Pappas said, adding, "Most of the developed world has gone through exercises to prepare their systems in the event of a pandemic. What's going on now is helping less developed countries like those in East Africa to come up to speed and be prepared for this sort of event."
Pappas said African countries should take action to prevent swine influenza from spreading. "There's every reason in every country to wash your hands. There's every good reason in every country in the world to promoted education around sneeze etiquette These basic principles are important," he said. Representatives from the African Union, the U.N. emergency preparedness office, the Red Cross and the WHO attended the conference (Heinlein, VOA News, 4/28).
IRIN published an article related to the conference, which focused on East Africa's ability to confront swine influenza. The article includes information about how East African countries have been responding to the outbreak (IRIN, 4/28). IRIN also examined Middle Eastern nations' response to the swine influenza outbreak. The article provides details on steps taken by Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (IRIN, 4/29).
Lancet Editorial Highlights Individual's Role in Preventing Swine Influenza Pandemic
On Wednesday, the journal Lancet published an editorial that examines the global response to swine influenza. According to the editorial, the Mexican government has been "swift to implement public health measures to try to contain the outbreak." As the situation evolved, transparency and ongoing communication between the WHO, governments, health officials, the media and the public, "will be critical" as the situation evolves. The editorial says that the ability of low-income and middle-income countries to diagnosed and manage swine influenza is "of particular concern." According to the Lancet, "history has shown that developing countries are disproportionately affected by an influenza pandemic." To prevent an escalation of this outbreak, "every member of the public has a part to play in limiting the risk of a full-blown pandemic," the Lancet writes, concluding that the "vital role and responsibility of the individual should not be ignored" (Lancet, 4/29).
Swine Flu Virus Being Grown for Potential Vaccine; No Large-Scale Production Necessary Yet, Says WHO
Though drug manufacturers have taken the first steps toward creating a swine flu vaccine, Reuters reports that the WHO said it would only call for large-scale production of a swine flu vaccine if all evidence suggested "the world was on the edge of an unstoppable global outbreak of flu." The CDC has begun the first stage of the production process by creating and growing the vaccine virus strain. "While the race is on to prepare a pandemic vaccine, health authorities and companies still have to make the tricky decision of when, or indeed whether, to switch capacity from producing seasonal vaccines to making the new shot," writes Reuters (Hirshcler, Reuters, 4/28).
Unlike antivirals, which can help alleviate the symptoms and reduce the spread of swine flu, NPR writes that an effective vaccine "would be the primary weapon against a flu pandemic if it can be made, distributed and gotten into people's arms in time." However, researchers say it will take between five and six months before a vaccine that offers protection against the swine flu is commercially available (Knox, NPR, 4/29).
CDC hopes it will have the strain it is growing delivered to vaccine makers by mid-May so they can begin their "laborious production work" of development, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports (Neergaard, AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.