Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:22 pm (KSA) 16:22 pm (GMT)

World prepares for worst as swine flu spreads

The WHO said that all countries should prepare for the worst
The WHO said that all countries should prepare for the worst

A global hunt for swine flu turned up new infections all around the world on Wednesday and frightened governments warned people to stay away from Mexico, where death toll reached 159.

The United States confirmed the first death from the new H1N1 swine flu, a 23-month-old child who died in Texas. It is the first death from swine flu reported outside Mexico. U.S. officials have confirmed 65 cases of swine flu, most of them mild.

Britain confirmed a further three cases of swine flu, including one in London, bringing to five the total number of cases in Britain. Germany confirmed three cases in patients living near Regensburg in southern Bavaria. The number of infections in Canada rose to 13 and new cases were also confirmed in Israel, New Zealand and Austria.

But global health officials cautioned that the numbers meant little in a rapidly changing situation, with doctors and clinics rushing to test people with respiratory symptoms and no one sure just how far the virus had spread.

Worldwide precautionary measures

Several countries have banned lvestock and pork imports because of concerns about swine flu

Americans, Canadians and Europeans were advised by their governments to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico. Argentina halted all flights from Mexico until Monday and Cuba cut air links for 48 hours.

Mexico closed all of its archeological sites until further notice on Tuesday, and cruise ships and tour operators turned away from the country, threatening to batter a tourism industry that is its No. 3 source of foreign currency.

In Mexico City, many residents are staying in their homes and authorities have shut schools, cinemas, stadiums, restaurants and even churches.

In the United States, President Barack Obama asked Congress for an extra $1.5 billion to fight the flu threat, and California declared a state of emergency, allowing it to deploy more resources to prevent new infections.

Australia approved tough new powers to detain people suspected of carrying swine flu if the crisis escalates.

Preparing for the worst

Swine flue is a virus which mutated from pigs and transmitted to humans

The World Health Organization said a pandemic -- a global outbreak of a serious new illness -- is not yet inevitable but that all countries should prepare for the worst, especially poorer developing nations. "They really get hit disproportionally hard," said the WHO's acting assistant director-general Dr. Keiji Fukuda.

A pandemic would deal a new blow to a world economy already in recession by forcing cuts in travel, trade and manufacturing output.

The swine flu virus is not caught from eating pig meat products but several countries, led by Russia and China, banned U.S. pork imports. The EU said it has no plans to restrict pig meat products from the United States.

Experts say that while it is impossible to stop the spread of the disease, efforts to slow its progress could buy crucial time for countries to procure essential drugs.

 They really get hit disproportionally hard 
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO

The WHO's Fukuda said a mild pandemic is possible but he also cautioned that the 1918 "Spanish" flu that killed tens of millions of people emerged from mild beginnings.

Worldwide, seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people in an average year.

One mystery was why the virus has apparently killed scores of people in Mexico while cases outside the country have been relatively mild and no one has died.

WHO officials say they will not know the answers for a while, while acting U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Richard Besser said he expected U.S. deaths would be discovered as doctors searched.

Israel and Arab states

 It is decided to slaughter all swine herds present in Egypt, starting from today 
Egyptian Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali

Israel's foreign ministry announced that Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will hold a joint meeting next week "to discuss ways to prevent the spreading of the epidemic."

Israel's neighbor Egypt, ordered the culling of all pigs in the Arab country as a precaution against swine flu, the country's health minister said on Wednesday.

"It is decided to slaughter all swine herds present in Egypt, starting from today," Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali said in a statement published by state news agency MENA.

Pigs are mainly raised on the streets of Cairo districts inhabited by Christian rubbish collectors and recyclers. Egyptian authorities have called repeatedly for the pigs to be relocated to a site south of Cairo.

MENA also reported that a pig abattoir in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria had already been shut down as a precautionary measure.

The United Arab Emirates, home to the Middle East's largest airport in Dubai, said it was putting all airports under strict surveillance to spot anyone arriving who might have swine flu.

So far "the UAE is free of this disease ... and so is the region," UAE Health Minister Humaid al-Qutami told reporters.

Neighbouring Gulf country Bahrain decided to suspend any imports of live pigs or any pork products.

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