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Global Health: Swine Flu Threat Spreads Worldwide

Swine Flu ProtectionConfirmed or suspected cases of swine flu, which was detected in Mexico earlier this month, have now been found in at least seven other countries around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that this outbreak constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Also known as swine influenza A or H1N1, swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs that can be passed between humans mainly through coughing and sneezing. In Mexico, there are over 100 deaths possibly linked to swine flu and more than 1,600 people have been sickened with suspected or confirmed cases of the virus. Confirmed cases of swine flu have now also been found in the U.S. and Canada, while New Zealand, Spain, France, Israel and Brazil all have suspected cases. Liz Borkowski, blogging on The Pump Handle, elaborates on why there is concern about the spread of swine flu:

“Swine flu is fairly common, but it’s usually only transmitted from pigs to humans. This new strain appears to be capable of human-to-human transmission, and it’s also sickening young, otherwise-healthy adults. This means the virus has the serious potential to cause a pandemic, so it’s appropriate that Mexico has closed schools until May 6 and barred large public gatherings, including church services.”

American health officials declared a public health emergency on April 26 after confirming 20 cases of swine flu in the states of California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas. Most of these cases were mild, though, and no deaths have been reported. Canada also confirmed six mild cases of swine flu in the provinces of Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

News of swine flu has spread quickly on the Internet, as people search for answers and share their thoughts on the disease. Swine Flu and #swineflu are the top trending topics on Twitter at the moment, and various Google maps have been created to track the outbreak. Bloggers around the world are also talking about swine flu.

Daniel Hernandez, blogging on Intersections, describes this scene in Mexico City:

“On Saturday, while the top brass at the WHO convened an emergency meeting in Geneva, soldiers in Mexico City were passing out face-masks at traffic stops, metro stations, and plazas. A militar in fatigues handed me a mask upon entering metro Bellas Artes, but it fell apart before I could even get on a train. On board, passengers eyed one another suspiciously and made every effort to avoid contact with strangers.”

Matthew Yglesias, blogging for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, expresses concern over how those without health insurance in the U.S. will deal with this disease:

“I have no opinions on this subject beyond the observation that it would be nice to live in a country where, if fell seriously ill due to viral infection, your access to effective medical remedies was not determined by your wealth, income, or employment status.”

Jim McVeagh, blogging from New Zealand on MacDoctor, thinks that more needs to be done in his country and worldwide to contain the virus. In New Zeland, 13 students who recently visited Mexico are suspected of having the disease. McVeagh says:

“Considering the massive over-reaction that occurred with bird flu, one would have hoped for a somewhat more vigorous response to this one than simple monitoring. I would have thought isolation of cases and restriction of travel to Mexico would have been a minimum response until we have more data. Since the CDC [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is now waking up probably about a week too late and the WHO insists on sitting on its hands, New Zealand’s lackadaisical response looks almost brisk in comparison.

While this might indeed be another non-event, it would be nice if health authorities made that call in hindsight rather than apparently up-front with incomplete information.”

Many countries are implementing safety measures to prevent the spread of swine flu. For example, some airports are screening travelers from Mexico for flu symptoms, and China and Russia plan to put anyone with symptoms under quarantine. Vijay Sadasivam, blogging on scan man, says that no preventative initiatives are being taken in India, though, while boinky, blogging on Finestkind Clinic and fish market, describes one measure happening in the Philippines:

“The Philippines will stop importation of pork from the US and Mexico to stop the spread…this is funny, since the flu is being spread human to human, and our own pigs have Ebola Reston…

but of course it's fiesta time, and so far no talk of a human quarantine such as they did with SARS…”

Many bloggers point out that while we should take this threat seriously and be prepared, there's no need to panic just yet. For instance, a post on Utah Preppers says:

“Some quick anti-panic notes…

  • Swine flu CANNOT be transmitted by food. Eating pork does NOT put you at risk.
  • This is NOT the first time the ’swine flu’ has transmitted to humans. It’s happened several times before without it becoming a pandemic.
  • This variant of swine flu, as with any flu, is a virus and primarily spread person-to-person through coughing or sneezing.
  • This is just a flu! The key here is to NOT GET IT.”
  • The WHO isn't currently recommending any travel or trade restrictions, and says they need more information on the virus before deciding whether to raise the global pandemic alert level, which is currently at level three of the six levels.

    Photo of Swine Flu Protection by Sarihuella on Flickr.

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