Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine flu: call for global action as Mexico outbreak spreads.

It looks as if the swine flu which hit Mexico over the weekend is likely to sweep the globe.

Governments around the world were put on high alert yesterday for a possible swine flu pandemic as the death toll from the virus at its centre in Mexico continued to rise, and possible cases were reported as far afield as Israel, New Zealand and Scotland.

A weekend declaration by the World Health Organisation of an international public health emergency was followed by a call for worldwide surveillance of the spread of the virus; it has rapidly claimed 86 lives, confined hundreds to hospital, and brought one of the world's largest cities to a near standstill.

The United States last night separately declared its own emergency after officials said the virus was now so widespread that it was unlikely it could be contained. However, White House officials urged people not to panic and pointed out that no case outside Mexico had proved fatal.

The US has found 20 confirmed cases of swine flu: eight students in New York and other sufferers in California, Kansas and Texas.

The US homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, ordered the immediate release of 12m doses of antiviral treatments, such as Tamiflu, collected over five years in response to fears about the spread of avian flu.

What's really odd about this is that it should be occurring so late in what we all regard as the flu season. I mean, we are almost in May for God's sake and people are dying of the flu?

The only solace we can take when governments start talking about pandemics is that we are probably better prepared than we have ever been, since the governments readied themselves for bird flu a couple of years back.

Some governments issued travel warnings as suspected infections were reported in Spain, Israel and Canada. In New Zealand, 10 pupils at an Auckland school who had visited Mexico were treated for symptoms similar to swine flu. Four suspected cases have been found in France.

In Scotland the health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, said that two people had been admitted to hospital on their return from Mexico; however, their flu-like symptoms were mild and the couple's condition was causing little concern, she said.

China and Russia took quarantine measures at airports to prevent entry by anyone infected. The US said it would begin testing suspect arrivals from infected areas.

At times like this I always find myself remembering that it was the flu which killed 50 million people shortly after WWI, taking more people than were lost on Europe's battlefields during the Great War.

One can but hope that we are much better prepared these days to cope with such an outbreak.

Although confirmed infections outside Mexico remain few, the head of the US Centres for Disease Control, Richard Besser, said he expected the flu to spread in the US. "I would expect that over time we are going to see more severe disease in this country," he said. "This will continue to spread, but we are taking aggressive actions to minimise the spread."

Another CDC official, Anne Schuchat, went further and said the virus had spread widely and could not be contained.

It's also odd that the people dying from this particular strain of the flu are not the old and babies, as it appears to particularly target young healthy adults in their prime.

We can take comfort from the fact that the authorities have not yet raised the pandemic level to four, which would indicate that the virus was showing a sustained ability to pass from human to human; or five, which would happen were the virus to show up in two countries in the same region.


Digby has a great take on this
In fact, all those people who don't want to pay their taxes and think the federal government is useless should probably figure out how they plan to deal with a possible pandemic by their own libertarian selves. After all, the worst words in the world are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you, right?"
Click title for full article.


Steel Phoenix said...

Three of my coworkers just got back from a week of shopping in Mexico. I'm keeping a close eye on them and bringing a pocket full of truffles. If any of them start sniffing around or oinking, I'm out of there.

Libertarians are the kings of self preparedness. When the government fails to stop the were-pig invasion, they will be the last ones left, all holed up in their bunkers with their gold and guns, with food for months.

Kel said...

Three of my coworkers just got back from a week of shopping in Mexico. I'm keeping a close eye on them and bringing a pocket full of truffles. If any of them start sniffing around or oinking, I'm out of there.My friend, at the slightest sign of a sneeze get your arse out of there at high speed!

And THAT is an order!