Mexico To Resume Business, Public Activity After H1N1 Outbreak Led to Shut-Down; WHO Chief Warns Against Over-Confidence
Mexico's Health Minister Jose Cordova announced on Monday that the government will go ahead with plans to resume business and public activity after implementing a five-day shutdown aimed at halting the spread of the H1N1 (swine) flu virus, Reuters reports (Bell/Trotta, Reuters, 5/4). CNN writes, "Mexican officials, citing improvement in the battle against the virus, announced plans to reopen government offices and restaurants on Wednesday and museums, libraries and churches the following day" (CNN, 5/5). The majority of Mexico's schools will remain closed until May 11, according to Reuters (Reuters, 5/4).
CBC News on Monday examined how the H1N1 outbreak in Mexico is testing the country's health system, as thousands flock to hospitals and clinics to be tested for the virus (Whyte, CBC News, 5/4). During the NewsHour on Monday correspondent Ray Suarez reported from Mexico City and discussed with leading health officials and local doctors the latest developments in the fight to control the region's outbreak (Suarez, NewsHour, 5/4).
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan urged caution despite the progress in fighting H1N1 seen in Mexico. "Flu viruses are very unpredictable, very deceptive ... We should not be over-confident," Chan said, adding, "One must not give H1N1 the opportunity to mix with other viruses." Reuters writes, "U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said WHO does not plan to raise its pandemic alert to the highest level if the current outbreak of the new strain of flu continues as is" (Reuters, 5/4).
On Monday, the WHO reported 21 countries have officially reported 1124 cases of swine flu. Mexico has reported 590 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 25 deaths. In the U.S., laboratory tests have confirmed 286 cases of swine flu, including one death. Additionally, " The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (140), China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1), Costa Rica (1), Colombia (1), Denmark (1), El Salvador (2), France (4), Germany (8), Ireland (1), Israel (4), Italy (2), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (6), Portugal (1), Republic of Korea (1), Spain (54), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (18)" (WHO Swine Influenza A(H1N1) - update 15, 5/5).
Southern Hemisphere Gears Up for Seasonal Flu, Potential Spread of H1N1
Though there have been few cases of H1N1 flu in the Southern hemisphere thus far, health officials worry that the region, which is now gearing up for winter, could soon fall victim to the virus, the AP/Washington Post reports. Because viruses flourish in the winter months, "Experts fear public health systems could be overwhelmed -- especially if swine flu and regular flu collide in major urban populations," the AP/Washington Post writes.
Additionally, if cases of H1N1 and seasonal flu meet head-on there they could mutate into a more deadly and contagious new strain. "We have a concern there might be some sort of reassortment and that's something we'll be paying special attention to," said World Health Organization spokesman Dick Thompson (Clendenning, AP/Washington Post, 5/4).
First Severe Case in Canada With No 'Known Connection to Mexico' Surfaces; WHO Says Community-Level Spread of H1N1 Not Seen Outside of North America
Canadian health officials on Monday reported that a young Canadian girl who has "no known connection" with Mexico had come down with a severe case of the H1N1 flu, Canwest News Service/Calgary Herald reports. The young girl represents Canada's "first known case of severe illness related to swine flu," Canwest News Service/Calgary Herald writes.
"We are starting to see some community-based spread," said David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, adding "The news of this first, more severe case, although disconcerting, is not surprising, and it does not change the course of action that we are taking" (Kirkey, Canwest News Service/Calgary Herald, 5/4).
Compared to seasonal flu viruses, the H1N1 virus has a longer than normal incubation period, causes more cases of diarrhea and can lead to severe pneumonia and deaths in young, healthy people, according to WHO officials. But how often the H1N1 virus leads to severe disease remains unknown, Canwest News Service/Canada.com reports (Kirkey, Canwest News Service/Canada.com, 5/4).
"I think that right now we do know that some of the people who have died have been young and healthy. But we also know that some of the people who have died have also had other illnesses going along,'' said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's temporary assistant director-general for Health Security and the Environment.
Fukada said that WHO has "not have any evidence that the virus has taken hold and led to community-level transmission in any other countries" besides Mexico, the U.S. and Canada (Canwest News Service/Calgary Herald, 5/4).
Despite signs that the swine flu outbreak may not be as serious as originally believed, U.S. officials on Monday cautioned it was too early to declare if the threat of the flu has died down, AP/Google.com reports. AP/Google.com writes, "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the outbreak could die down with warmer weather only to roar back during fall flu season" (AP/Google.com, 5/4).
Fukada emphasized on Monday that it is critical that countries throughout the world continue to remain alert and to continue to monitor the swine flu virus, VOA reports (Saine, VOA, 5/4).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.