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Swine flu fears sweeping the world

Posted by Dresonic on April 27, 2009

GENEVA (AP) – Canada became the third country to confirm human cases of swine flu Sunday as global health officials considered whether to raise the global pandemic alert level.

Nations from New Zealand to Spain also reported suspected cases and some warned citizens against travel to North America while others planned quarantines, tightened rules on pork imports and tested airline passengers for fevers.

Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, Dr Robert Strang said the east coast Canadian province had confirmed four “very mild” cases of swine flu in students ranging in age from 12 to 17 or 18. All were recovering, he said, adding that it was acquired in Mexico, brought home and spread.

The western province of British Columbia confirmed two further cases.

The news follows the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision Saturday to declare the outbreak first detected in Mexico and the United States a “public health emergency of international concern”.

A senior WHO official said the agency’s emergency committee would meet for a second time Tuesday to examine the extent to which the virus had spread before deciding whether to increase the pandemic alert beyond phase three.

The same strain of the A/H1N1 swine flu virus has been detected in several locations in Mexico and the United States, and it appears to be spreading directly from human to human, said Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director-general in charge of health security.

Mexico’s health minister said the disease had killed up to 86 people and likely sickened up to 1,400 since April 13. US officials said the virus had been found in New York, California, Texas, Kansas and Ohio, but so far no fatalities had been reported there.

Governments including China, Russia and Taiwan began planning to put anyone with symptoms of the deadly virus under quarantine. Others were increasing their screening of pigs and pork imports from the Americas or banning them outright, despite health officials’ reassurances that it was safe to eat thoroughly cooked pork.

Some nations issued travel warnings for Mexico and the United States.

Symptoms of the flu-like illness include a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius), body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The virus is usually contracted through direct contact with pigs, but Joseph Domenech, chief of animal health service at UN Food and Agriculture Agency in Rome, said all indications were that the virus was being spread through human-to-human transmission.

No vaccine specifically protects against swine flu, and it is unclear how much protection current human flu vaccines might offer.

WHO’s emergency committee was still trying to determine exactly how the virus had spread, Fukuda said. And the agency’s Director-General Margaret Chan called the outbreak a public health emergency of “pandemic potential” because the virus can pass from human to human.

Her agency was considering whether to issue nonbinding recommendations on travel and trade restrictions, and even border closures. It is up to governments to decide whether to follow the advice.

“Countries are encouraged to do anything that they feel would be a precautionary measure,” WHO spokeswoman Aphaluck Bhatiasevi said. “All countries need to enhance their monitoring.”

New Zealand said that 10 students who took a school trip to Mexico “likely” had swine flu. Israel said a man who had recently visited Mexico had been hospitalised while authorities try to determine whether he had the disease. French Health Ministry officials investigated four possible cases of swine flu, but three were later found to be negative.
Spanish authorities said a total of seven suspected cases were under observation.

Hong Kong and Taiwan said visitors who came back from flu-affected areas with fevers would be quarantined. China said anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms within two weeks of arrival from an affected area had to report to authorities. A Russian health agency said any passenger from North America running a fever would be quarantined until the cause of the fever is determined.

With additional reporting by Associated Press writers around the

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