May 4th, 2009 11:15 EST
Swine Flu Delves Further Into The Global Population
The number of swine flu cases grew in the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America and Columbia reported the first confirmed cases of the virus in South America as the epidemic delved further into populations worldwide on Sunday. Mexico, the origin of the H1N1 viral pathogen, is even predicting that the worst of the disease`s onfall has passed and is planning to reopen schools and businesses in the country.
Swine flu in the U.S. and Europe spiked on Sunday, with a total of at least 999 confirmed cases around the world. Health authorities currently place the number of confirmed swine flu reportings at 244, spanning 34 states all across the United States. The current figure represents a 160 case jump from Saturday, which is attributed to a more succinct and better coordinated operation between health professionals and the federal government.
Authorities in New Mexico claimed 14 schools in four cities were going to be shut down for a week at the minimum after the state confirmed its first case of swine flu. The New Mexico Activities Association, in charge of the state`s athletic and recreational programs, put all sporting events and extracurricular activities across the state on hold indefinitely.
Meanwhile one state over, Arizona cancelled classes for all 10 public schools in Nogales, a city on the Mexico border, after a student enrolled in the school district came down with the swine flu.
In California, all conjugal visitations have been postponed after a prisoner at the Centinela State Prison fell ill with flu-like symptoms.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, a leading health official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the jump in cases coincides with the joint initiative now improving the efficiency of state testing.
Given the statistics showing how the new flu`s rate of outbreak resembles the seasonal flu`s annual rate of infection, interim director for the CDC Dr. Richard Besser said: "The good news is when we look at this virus right now, we`re not seeing some of the things in the virus that have been associated in the past with more severe flu. That`s encouraging, but it doesn`t mean we`re out of the woods yet."
The virus has now swept into Columbia, which became the first South American nation to report cases of swine flu, as the Southern Hemisphere enters its flu season for the calendar year.
Late on Sunday, Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova confirmed that 22 deaths in the country were from swine flu: a hike from the Health Ministry`s last number at 19.
Cordova enunciated the fact that the flu has infected nearly 568, an estimate which is believed to have occurred between April 23th and April 28th by Mexican health officials. Though, from the outset, the government issued closings seem to have halted the disease`s progress according to the health secretary, there is no empirical data to back up the claim. Health officials in Mexico are going to convene on Monday to decide whether to lift the nationwide cancellations or prolong the shutdown by Wednesday.
He also said the latest H1N1 flu death happened on April 29th.
Cordova said: "The evolution of the epidemic is now in its declining phase."
Epidemiologist Pablo Kuri, advising Cordova on the matter, revealed that tests confirmed that the first death linked to swine flu actually occurred on April 11th in Mexico City, rather than April 13th, which was earlier reported.
Kuri announced that none of the health care volunteers and technicians in immediate contact with swine flu patients have died in Mexico, which supports the CDC`s previous statement outlining the virus`s genetic deficiency in spreading.
Mexico`s mandatory closings, including all churches, made Sunday look eerily foreign. The country, predominantly Roman Catholic, was subjected to viewing Sunday Mass on television, as other public settings also remained vacant.
In accordance with the countrywide shutdowns, Mexico`s congressional elections, which began on Sunday, were conducted online as all campaigning stops and meetings were restricted to stop the further spread of the flu.
The liberal Democratic Revolution Party incepted a Facebook page for its candidates well before the elections began to rally voters via the new medium. Even the right-wing National Action Party announced the launch of the country`s first virtual campaign through Webcast messages on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, proposing to reform environmental issues and law enforcement in Mexico.
In the continuing struggle to stave off more outbreaks in the country, the U.S. sent $1 million worth of protection kits, 100,000 in all, to Mexico for emergency technicians` use. Consisting of respiratory masks, protective goggles, and overalls, the kits only signify a fraction of the $16 million the U.S. has donated to Mexican relief since the influenza outbreak first began.
Elsewhere in the world, health officials have stepped up preventative recourses in coping with global crisis.
Authorities in the Canadian province of Alberta quarantined close to 220 pigs that reportedly contracted the illness from a farm worker who just came back from a trip to Mexico: the first authorized report of the H1N1 influenza being transmitted from a human to another species. The Canadian government insisted that the swine flu cannot be passed through consuming pork.
Last week, Egypt declared that all pigs were to be slaughered nationwide, invoking protests from pig farmers in the country, which escalated into all-out riots against police officers.
As of Sunday, the World Health Organization, the CDC, and governments worldwide, said there are 187 documented cases of H1N1 influenza around the world outside the United States and Mexico. Among them, Canada leads all the countries with 101 cases. In Europe, Spain has 40, Britain has 18, Germany has eight, Italy and France have two and Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands report one case each. There are four verified instances of the strain in New Zealand, two in Israel and South Korea, and one apiece in Columbia, Costa Rica and Hong Kong.
In conjunction with the medical emergency measures, countries have ramped up screening Mexican citizens and anyone who recently visited Mexico.
China sequestered over 70 Mexican nationals in area hospitals and hotels, and health care workers placed Mexicans coming into the country in quarantine, according to the Mexican ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo. In the city of Hong Kong, health officials isolated 350 people in a hotel, once it was discovered that one person in the group who traveled to Mexico suffered from swine flu.
Guajardo said: "In many cases we have gotten reports that they were being quarantined for the sole fact that they had a Mexican passport, whether or not they came from Mexico, whether or not they had been in Mexico, whether or not they had been in contact with someone else from Mexico."
The Mexican embassy even claimed that the Mexican consul in Guangzhou were detained for a short period of time after returning from a vacation to Cambodia.
Meanwhile in Trinidad, a crew on board a Mexican tanker was detained for flu testing since Friday by the country`s Ministry of Health. The Ministry has cleared all crew members of carrying the illness and plans to release them shortly.
World health experts warned that the swine flu is still a considerable danger even with the positive news. More importantly, analysts are monitoring the disease as the Southern Hemisphere moves into its flu season, and how the disease either dies out or reemerges as a seriously deadly virus.
Dr. Jon Andrus, a leading official with the Pan American Health Organization, said: "Most experts would agree that the current outbreak that we are experiencing is mild to moderate in severity. That is not to say things cannot change very rapidly and very dramatically."
At a media conference in Switzerland, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said: "Certainly, maybe, this current round of activity has peaked, but we are only 10 days into this outbreak. I think we would wat to wait a while before making a definitive decision."