04/28/2009, 00.00
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Swine Flu: close to pandemic proportions

WHO: raises its pandemic alert level to phase four. A similar Flu, 40 years ago, caused over one million deaths. Deaths in Mexico, suspected cases in many nations among them, Israel and South Korea. A vaccine will take months to produce. Airline shares slide.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – World health experts are beginning to talk of swine flu in terms of a potent ional pandemic, the first in 40 years, while the numbers of deaths from the virus climb in Mexico as well as infection rates in countries across the globe.

The World Health Organisation raised its pandemic alert level to phase four (the maximum is six), confirming the possibility of sustained human-to-human transmission of the swine flu virus. The last influenza of this kind in memory dates to 1968 in Hong Kong that caused the death of one million people.

Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO assistant-general, declared today that the virus is “too widespread to contain it”. While nations where the virus is present must seek to use all measures to mitigate its effects, he noted that “closing borders or restricting travel really has very little effects in stopping the movement of this virus”. This is because of the speed with which it travels and is communicated.

Many airports have stepped up surveillance using thermal cameras and sensors to identify people with fever.

So far the virus has caused 150 deaths in Mexico with only 20 of them confirmed cases.  In those nations where schools have been closed and public gatherings cancelled it seems that the virus is diminishing.  Confirmed cases of swine flu have been reported in USA (40); Canada (6); Great Britain (2); Spain (1); suspected cases in Israel, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Perù.

Health experts say the virus comes from the same strain that causes seasonal outbreaks in humans. But they say this newly-detected version contains genetic material from versions of flu which usually affect pigs and birds. The WHO has warned that it will takes up to six months to produce a vaccine and many more to produce it in great quantities.

Fear of an epidemic has led to a downturn in airline shares on the stock exchange. Cathay Pacific today lost 1.7%, after yesterday saw a loss of 8%; in Taiwan China Airlines and Eva Airways respectively lost 4 and 7%; yesterday they plummeted by 7%.

 Even if there has been no warning against eating pork, Russia, China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates have banned all pork imports from the Unites States.


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