04/27/2009, 00.00
ASIA
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Swine flu: Asia mobilizes against threat of pandemic

Suspected cases in Israel and Hong Kong. Severe controls in the airports, with instruments to measure body temperature. Exported American pork prohibited in China, Russia, and other countries. Experts: if the flu spreads to the populated areas of India and China, it will be difficult to contain it.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China and Russia are banning the importing of pork and live hogs from Mexico and the United States, to prevent the spread of swine flu, which can also infect humans. Strict quarantine measures are in place all over Asia, on pork and in the airports. There are suspected infections in Israel and Hong Kong.

Beijing has ordered all shipments of pork from Mexico, Texas, Kansas, and California since April 26 to be sent back or destroyed. Shipments sent before then will be carefully checked. China is the world's largest consumer of pork, and bought more than one million tons from the United States in 2008. Moscow has banned pork from Mexico, many countries of Central America, and various states in the U.S.

Many countries in Asia have immediately adopted quarantine and emergency measures that were applied during the SARS epidemic and for bird flu. In the international airports of Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong, video cameras and infrared body temperature monitors have been installed, to detect any passengers who may be sick with the flu (in the photo: video cameras in the airport of Hong Kong), while in Singapore and Indonesia scanners are being used to check temperature. Strict surveillance measures are in place in the airports of the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and South Korea. In Russia, anyone from North America who has a fever is being quarantined.

The watchword is prevention. In Thailand, 14 medical centers have been set up that are capable of managing an epidemic, and of checking every suspected case in 4 hours, while 6 additional mobile units can also reach remote areas.

All of Asia, however, says there are no infections yet. Only in Israel, a 25-year-old man was quarantined in hospital yesterday, after returning from Mexico with flu symptoms. The results from his test will be made public today. In Hong Kong, a 27-year-old woman has been hospitalized after returning from San Francisco, although health officials say no infections have been reported in that city.

The virus has already killed more than 100 people in Mexico, and there are more than 1,600 suspected cases. Dozens of cases have been confirmed in the United States and in Canada. Suspected infections have also been reportedin Europe and New Zealand. The World Health Organization has declared a "public health emergency of international concern," and has warned of the risk of a pandemic, especially in poor countries like Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, which do not have adequate health services.

The most serious risk of the swine flu virus, or H1N1, is the fact that it can be directly transmitted from person to person, says Malik Peiris, a microbiologist from the University of Hong Kong.

Guan Yi, also a professor at the University of Hong Kong, who combated the SARS virus and bird flu, warns that "if it goes to China or India, where populations are very dense and infrastructure is not enough, there will be many problems."

Microbiologist Kwok-yung says that an epidemic in Asia or Europe would be "uncontrollable."

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