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Philippine Gov't Readies Anti-Flu Capsules

Inquirer.net, News Report, Philippine Daily Inquirer Posted: Apr 28, 2009

MANILA Philippine officials confirm the country has 600,000 anti-flu capsules to deal with swine influenza, a health emergency that has prompted the World Health Organization to raise an unprecedented global alert for the virus.

Swine flu has spread to seven countries and appears to be jumping borders via airplane flights, officials said.

In New Zealand, the virus was confirmed in a group of students and teachers that recently visited Mexico, where the disease is suspected to have infected nearly 2,000 people and caused 152 deaths. Another case was confirmed in Israel.

Fifty casesnone fatalhave been confirmed in the United States, six in Canada, two in Spain and two in Scotland.

European Union officials reported Tuesday flu cases were also being probed in Denmark, Sweden, Greece, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Ireland, in addition to Spain and Britain.

At this time, containment is not a feasible option, said Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director general.

Sustained Transmission

The WHO raised the alert level to Phase 4, meaning there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks in at least one country. Monday was the first time it has ever been raised above Phase 3.

Putting an alert at Phases 4 or 5 signals that the virus is becoming increasingly adept at spreading among humans. Phase 6 is for a full-blown pandemic, characterized by outbreaks in at least two regions of the world.

We Are Praying

Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in Tacloban City that the Department of Health would do its best to keep the country safe from the epidemic.

We are praying that this will not affect us, Duque told reporters. But just in case, he said that the DOH has around 600,000 anti-flu capsules that would be enough to treat 60,000 patients.

He cautioned the public against an epidemia of misinformation about the disease that could prove disastrous.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap also expanded the ban on pork imports from Mexico and the United States and included Canada.

Confirmed Cases

Do not panic, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said in a news conference after a meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council. We are here to show that the government is ready.

Tests on the New Zealand cases conducted at a WHO laboratory in Australia had confirmed three cases of swine flu among 11 members of the group who were showing symptoms, New Zealand Health Minister Tony Ryall said.

Officials decided that was evidence enough to assume the whole group was infected, he said.

Those infected had suffered only mild illness and were expected to recover, Public Health Director Mark Jacobs said. There are 43 more suspected cases in the country, officials said.

The Israeli Health Ministry Tuesday confirmed the regions first case of swine flu in the city of Netanya. The 26-year-old patient recently returned from Mexico and had contracted the same strain, Health Ministry spokesperson Einav Shimron said.

Dr. Avinoam Skolnik, Laniado Hospitals medical director, said the patient has fully recovered and is in excellent condition. Another suspected case has been tested at another Israeli hospital but results are not in, the ministry said.

A second case was confirmed Tuesday in Spain, Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said, a day after the country reported its first case. The 23-year-old student, one of 26 patients under observation, was not in serious condition, Jimenez said.

Avoid Non-essential Travel

The European Union health commissioner suggested that Europeans avoid nonessential travel both to Mexico and parts of the United States. Russia, Hong Kong and Taiwan said they would quarantine visitors showing symptoms of the virus.

Mexico, where the number of deaths believed caused by swine flu rose by 50 percent on Monday to 152, is suspected to be ground zero of the outbreak. But Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova late Monday said no one knows where the outbreak began, and implied it may have started in the United States.

Its still not clear when the first case occurred, making it impossible thus far to determine where the breakout started.

Dr. Nancy Cox of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said she believes the earliest onset of swine flu in the United States happened on March 28.

Cordova said a sample taken from a 4-year-old boy in Mexicos Veracruz state in early April tested positive for swine flu. However, it is not known when the boy, who later recovered, became infected.

Combination Of Viruses

The new flu strain is a combination of pig, bird and human viruses to which humans may have no natural immunity. Symptoms include a fever of more than 100, coughing, joint aches, severe headache and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

Amid the alarm, there was a spot of good news. The number of new cases reported by Mexicos largest government hospitals has been declining the past three days, Cordova said, from 141 on Saturday to 119 on Sunday and 110 Monday.

In a bid to prevent mass contagion, Mexico canceled school nationwide until May 6, and the Mexico City government is considering a complete shutdown, including all public transportation. The Cinco de Mayo parade celebrating Mexicos defeat of a French army on May 5, 1862 and Mexico Citys traditional May 1 parade were canceled. More than 100 museums nationwide were closed.

Many residents of Mexico City wore blue surgical masks, though the CDC said most masks offer little protection. Many victims have been in their 30s and 40snot the very old or young who typically succumb to the flu. So far, no deaths from the new virus have been reported outside Mexico.

It could take four to six months before the first batch of vaccines are available, WHO officials said. Some anti-flu drugs do work once someone is sick.

United States Prepares For The Worst

With the virus spreading, the United States prepared for the worst even as President Barack Obama tried to reassure Americans.

At the White House, a swine flu update was added to Obamas daily intelligence briefing. Obama said the outbreak is not a cause for alarm, even as the United States stepped up checks of people entering the country and warned US citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.

The best way to keep the disease from spreading, health officials said, is by taking everyday precautions such as frequent handwashing, covering up coughs and sneezes, and staying away from work or school if not feeling well.

Air Travel Singled Out

WHO spokesperson Peter Cordingley singled out air travel as an easy way the virus could spread, noting that the WHO estimates that up to 500,000 people are on planes at any time.

Governments in Asiawith memories of previous flu outbreakswere especially cautious. Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines dusted off thermal scanners used in the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis and were checking for signs of fever among passengers from North America. South Korea, India and Indonesia also announced screening.

World stock markets fell Tuesday as investors worried that any swine flu pandemic could derail a global economic recovery.

With reports from Associated Press, Riza Olchondra, Tarra Quismundo, Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Joey A. Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas

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