WHO: Swine flu pandemic has begun, 1st in 41 years

June 11th, 2009

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The World Health Organization has told its member nations it is declaring a swine flu pandemic — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years.

The move came Thursday as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere.

In a statement sent to member countries, WHO says it decided to raise the pandemic alert level from phase 5 to 6, meaning that a global outbreak of swine flu has begun. The decision was made after the U.N. health agency held an emergency meeting on swine flu with its experts.

Health officials from Scotland, Indonesia and Thailand said the agency would declare a swine flu pandemic — a global epidemic — on Thursday after a teleconference with leading flu experts. Officials at U.N. missions in Geneva also said they expected the imminent announcement of a pandemic.

WHO spokesman Thomas Abraham said only that the emergency meeting began at noon in Geneva and WHO member nations would be informed of the result. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan was holding a press conference at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT, noon EDT).

“It is likely in light of sustained community transmission in countries outside of North America — most notably in Australia — that level 6 will be declared,” Scotland’s Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers, adding it would be Thursday.

Indonesian health minister Siti Fadilah Supari said she had been notified by WHO that “today will be declared to be phase 6.”

Phase 6 is WHO’s highest alert level and means that a swine flu pandemic is under way. The last pandemic — the Hong Kong flu of 1968 — killed about 1 million people. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

Since the new flu strain — dubbed A(H1N1) — first emerged in Mexico and the United States in April, it has spread to 74 countries around the globe. On Wednesday, WHO reported 27,737 cases including 141 deaths. The agency has stressed that most cases are mild and require no treatment, but the fear is that a rash of new infections could overwhelm hospitals and health authorities — especially in poorer countries.

The long-awaited pandemic announcement is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe. It will trigger drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money to containing the virus.

In May, several countries urged WHO not to declare a pandemic, fearing it would spark mass panic.

Fear has already gripped Argentina, where so many people worried about swine flu flooded into hospitals this week that emergency health services in the capital have collapsed. Last month, a bus arriving in Argentina from Chile was stoned by people who thought a passenger on it had swine flu. Chile has the most swine flu cases in South America.

In Hong Kong, the government on Thursday ordered all kindergartens and primary schools closed for two weeks after a dozen students tested positive for swine flu.

In Australia, swine flu cases jumped to more than 1,000 on Monday and reached 1,260 by late Wednesday.

WHO says its pandemic announcement would not mean the situation was worsening, since no mutations have been detected in the virus to show it is getting more deadly.

In Edinburgh, Sturgeon told lawmakers that a WHO announcement means countries should immediately activate their pandemic plans.

“A move to level 6 is not a verdict on the severity of the virus,” she said. “It simply means that the extent of global spread now fulfills the definition of a pandemic.”

Pig Farmers Go Hog Wild Over Swine Flu Name

May 1st, 2009

Farm officials from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on down have urged health officials to ditch the name “swine flu,” pointing out that people can’t get the virus from pigs.

The U.S. pork industry generates $15 billion a year, but pig farmers say they’re being crippled by bans on exports of live pigs or pork meat imposed by 15 nations, including Russia, China, Thailand and Indonesia.

But “this really isn’t swine flu,” Vilsack said this week. “It’s H1N1 virus. That’s very, very important.”

Really? Do the think people will stop using the name “swine flu” overnight just becasue some goverment officials proclaim it? They didn’t even name it, so how can they change the name? Short answer: they can’t.

Those complaints are beginning to have an effect. The World Health Organization said Thursday that it would drop the shorthand name, saying it was needlessly confusing consumers. The European Union has already adopted the name “novel flu,” while the Canadian Health Ministry is considering a petition by the Canadian Pork Council rename the virus “North American flu.”

Novel Flu – now that sounds like a sure file catchy name. Or,  North American Flu.

Why the political games over the name of a disease?

Isn’t it more important to find a cure and prevent the swine flu than to spend time and money trying to come up with a name that will satisfy pig farmers?

“We’re trying to minimize human traffic into our hog operation so our hogs do not get the disease from humans, which is probably a little bit of a twist from what most people have heard about,” said Elwyn Fitzke, a pork producer in Glenvil, Neb.

Right. Because if the pigs die, they’re out of business. And that’s what it’s all about as far as the pig farmers are concerned.

Rhode Island Closes High School Over Suspected Case Of Swine Flu

May 1st, 2009

North Kingstown High School was closed when a student who returned from spring break in Mexico came down with the possible swine flu.

Governor Don Carcieri said on Wednesday that he recommended the high school be closed for the remainder of the week out of an “abundance of caution.” The student’s test results were expected within 48 hours after being sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

Hong Kong Reports First Confirmed Case Of Swine Flu

May 1st, 2009

The first reported confirmed case of swine flu was reported in Hong Kong on Thursday.

The case is a 25 year old who had just arrived fromMexico.

Hong Kong authorities immediately quarantined the entire hotel where the 25 year old had stayed.

All guests and staff at the hotel have been quarantined to the hotel for the next week, as authorites owrked har to limit the extent of the exposure.

Health workers were busy handing out boxes of Tamiflu to the guests and staff at the hotel.

US School Closings Continue Due To Swine Flu Threat

April 30th, 2009

Hundreds of schools around the country are closing in an effort to contain the spread of the swine flu.

The number of closed schools more than doubled overnight to nearly 300 when the Fort Worth Independent School District in Texas announced it was closing its 140 schools, affecting about 80,000 students. High schools sports were suspended in Texas and Alabama.

“We do think it’s very prudent to close schools when a case has been confirmed or is highly suspect,” CDC’s Schuchat told lawmakers Thursday.

Mexico: Swine Flu Slowing Down

April 30th, 2009

Mexico believes that there has been a slow down in the swine flu infection in their country.

Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordovasaid  new cases have leveled off and the death rate has been nearly flat for several days. He said the next few days would be critical in determining whether the virus was truly on the decline.

The World Health Organization’s top flu official, responding to similarly hopeful remarks from other Mexican officials, sounded a more cautious note about whether the virus had peaked.

“For things to go up and down in a country is expected. If it didn’t do that would be very unusual,” Dr. Keiji Fukuda said in Geneva. “Hopefully we’ll see more of the data of what’s going on there. But I expect even in Mexico you will see a mixed picture.”

New York Governor Confirms Additional Cases Of Swine Flu

April 30th, 2009

Governor Patterson confirmed additional cases of swine flu at a press conference today. Some of the additional cases are located in Nassau County and Suffolk County and are believed to be related to the St Francis Prep school cases.

The governor also mentioned that additional cases were located in other upstate counties.

Washington DC: 1 Suspected Case Of Swine Flu

April 30th, 2009

A worker at the World Bank in Washington DC is suspected of being ill with the swine flu.

The person had been to Mexico on business in April.

Mexico Shutting Down Most Government Services – Telling People To Stay Home

April 30th, 2009

The Mexican government increased measures meant to stop the spread of the deadly swine flu.

Most nonessential government services have been shut down.

Supermarkets and hospitals will stay open.

“There is no safer place to protect yourself against catching swine flu than in your house,” Mexican President Felipe Calderon said in a televised address Wednesday night. He praised the “heroic work” of doctors and nurses and brushed aside criticism that his government’s response was slow.

First Confirmed Case Of Swine Flu In Switzerland

April 30th, 2009

A man who recently returned from Mexico has tested positive for swine flu.

“Yes, we can confirm it,” Jean-Louis Zurcher, a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Health Department, said when asked whether he could confirm that Switzerland had its first case of swine flu.