Swine flu cases worldwide top 1,000
The United Nations‘ World Health Organization reported on Monday that the total number of confirmed cases of the H1N1 swine flu virus worldwide has surpassed one thousand.
The chief of the WHO, Margaret Chan, told the UN General Assembly in New York that 1,003 confirmed infections have been reported throughout the world since the outbreak began.
Chan said that there was “no indication that we are facing a situation similar to that in 1918,” when an outbreak of the flu killed fifty million people. She did, however, warn that if the virus were to start in a second wave, it “would be the biggest of all outbreaks the world has faced in the 21st century.”
“I’m not predicting the pandemic will blow up, but if I miss it and we don’t prepare, I fail. I’d rather over-prepare than not prepare,” Chan told the Financial Times.
On Monday, Portugal reported its first confirmed case of the disease, in a woman who had recently visited Mexico. Other European countries, such as Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain, have also announced new cases of the flu. Currently, there have been 27 casualties resulting from the disease, with 26 in Mexico and the other in the United States.
The WHO has recently increased its pandemic alert level to the fifth level, on a scale of one to six, although it has said an increase to the highest level is not probable. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO Assistant Director, said that “We do not have any evidence to suggest that we should move to phase six today, or any such move is imminent right now.” A transition to the sixth level would only take place if the disease were to start spreading significantly on at least two continents.
Androulla Vassiliou, the European Union Health Commissioner, stressed that there was no need to panic about the outbreak. She said that a pandemic would not necessarily result in mass deaths from the virus.
“We are worried, but we are on top of things,” Vassiliou said. “The fact that we have been preparing ourselves in the EU for an event such as this for some years now, and the experience gained so far, puts us in a much stronger position.”
The Brazilian government has reported that there are fifteen suspected infections of the H1N1 virus, up from four earlier in the week. 44 patients displaying symptoms of the flu are being monitored.
In a televised interview on the weekend, Brazilian health minister Jose Gomes Temporao stated Brazil is well prepared to fight a possible epidemic. “The virus is not circulating in the country, and if it does, we are prepared for it,” he said, adding that the government had enough raw materials on hand to give prescriptions to up to nine million cases.
Tens of Mexican citizens visiting China were placed under quarantine this week, despite not showing any symptoms of the swine flu, prompting allegations of discrimination from Mexican diplomats. The action was taken after a Mexican woman who had arrived in China from Mexico was found to be infected with the disease.
Chinese foreign spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said that the move was not discrimination against Mexicans, but correct procedure. The incident has soured the two countries’ relations, as Mexico is China’s largest trade partner in Central America.
Government officials in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, have said that there are signs that the outbreak has been successfully curbed. Mexican health minister Jose Angel Cordova said “the trend is slowing”. He warned against complacency, though, adding that “there could be a resurgence, and that could occur in the next few days or even much later.”
The current number of confirmed deaths from the flu have reached twelve, and 260 confirmed cases.
The Mexican economy has suffered from the epidemic. The government ordered tourist sites and businesses to shut down until Wednesday, after a five-day close down nationwide. The closures are estimated to be threatening 450,000 and costing the economy $100 million per diem.
The United States has pledged to purchase 13 million packages of antiviral treatment, and export 400,000 of them to Mexico.
A Portuguese woman who had recently traveled to Mexico has been confirmed to have the H1N1 virus, the government reported, making her the first confirmed case in the country.
“She was not seriously ill and it is several days now since she displayed any more symptoms. Her relatives and a group of people who traveled with her [to Mexico] have been tested and none of them have been infected,” said the Portuguese health minister, Ana Jorge.
Spain‘s health minister Trinidad Jimenez said that the country now has 57 confirmed cases of the swine flu, making Spain the country with the most confirmed incidents in Europe. The number was up from 44 cases reported as of Sunday.
Jimenez said that out of the confirmed cases, only eleven persons remained hospitalized, while the rest have been released. An additional 63 people are under observation for the flu.
The swine flu has been reported in more than 25 of the fifty US states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that thirty states have now reported incidents of the virus, with a total of 226 confirmed cases. The only fatality from the disease in the country was in a Mexican child who died in Texas.
“Virtually all of the United States probably has this virus circulating now,” said the CDC’s interim public health deputy director, Anne Schuchat. “We expect a number of additional states to confirm the virus in the days ahead. I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.”
In his weekly broadcast, President Barack Obama said that he “would sooner take action now than hesitate and face graver consequences later,” saying there was “the potential for a pandemic”. The president has also requested a US$1.5 million fund from Congress in order to buy additional emergency equipment and antiviral drugs.
Janet Napolitano, US Homeland Security secretary, denied claims that the government was scaring the public, saying that “once you get behind flu, you can’t catch up. You have to get ahead of it.”