The first human case of swine flu in Europe has been confirmed in Spain, the country’s government said on Monday.
Spanish Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said a 23-year-old Spanish man who recently returned from Mexico started showing symptoms of the virus on Saturday and was later hospitalized in Almansa in southeast Spain.
The minister said another 20 other people in Spain are suspected of infection with the virus.
Authorities around the world have begun closely monitoring incoming flights from Mexico, checking passengers for signs of infection with the virus, which is believed to have claimed more than 100 lives in Mexico.
Twenty human cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the United States and six in Canada, and suspected infections have been reported in New Zealand, Israel and France. The United States has declared a public health emergency.
A 31-year-old Italian woman was hospitalized in Venice on Monday with swine flu symptoms. She had flown in a few days previously from California, where several swine flu cases have been confirmed.
World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan warned on Sunday that the outbreak had “pandemic potential”, and urged governments to improve measures to monitor the virus.
Swine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease of pigs caused by one of several viruses. Although swine flu viruses are normally species-specific and infect only pigs, they sometimes cause disease in humans.
According to the WHO, the human mortality rate from swine influenza is between 1% and 4%. The virus often goes undetected, as the symptoms are similar to those of ordinary flu.
However, the WHO said on its website that cooked pork products do not pose a health risk.
“Swine influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs. The swine influenza virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160F/70C.”
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There have only been seven deaths in Mexico that can be said without doubt to have been caused by swine flu, the Central American country’s health minister has said.
“I can officially confirm that seven people have died of swine flu in Mexico,” Jose Angel Cordova said late on Tuesday.
He added that there had only been 26 confirmed cases of people being infected with the virus in the country.
The minister also noted that all deaths from acute pneumonia were being treated as possible swine flu. His comments came as reports said that up to 159 people in the country had died of “suspected” swine flu.
Sixty-four cases of human swine flu infection have been confirmed in the United States and 13 in Canada, although there have been no fatalities. The United States has declared a public health emergency.
In Europe, swine flu cases have been confirmed in Spain and the U.K. Suspected infections have been reported in New Zealand, Israel, Brazil and Australia.
Countries around the world have begun measures to prevent a swine flu pandemic.
The World Health Organization has raised the level of swine flu pandemic alert from phase 3 to 4, implying a significant risk increase, two steps short of a full pandemic.
The consular section of Russia’s embassy in Mexico has suspended its work until May 4 due to the swine flu outbreak.
All restaurants and cafes were shut down in Mexico City on Tuesday until May 6 over swine flu fears, with daily losses estimated at $10 million, the National Restaurant Association said.
All the 16 passengers who arrived in Taiwan Friday from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport were located and examined by health authorities as of last night to determine whether they have been exposed to swine flu, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The 16 passengers moved to contact health authorities for examinations after Shih Wen-yi, deputy director-general of the CDC, called for the passengers to do so at a press conference held yesterday afternoon at the Cabinet-level Department of Health. The 16 passengers — 14 Taiwanese and two U.S. citizens — took flight NW25, May 8, from Detroit to Tokyo, where they stopped en route to Taiwan before continuing aboard the same plane.
Shih said the 16 people must be quickly examined to determine whether they have contracted the A(HIN1) virus, which will cause swine flu, as three Japanese passengers on the same flight were confirmed May 9 to be infected after returning home.
The three Japanese had stayed in Canada from April 24 to May 7, and suffered coughing, runny noses and fever during the flight from the United States to Japan, which carried 390 passengers. They were the first three cases of swine flu reported by Japan.
The first confirmed case of the disease in Asia involved a Mexican man who was diagnosed with swine flu May 1 after arriving in Hong Kong a day earlier on China Eastern Airlines flight MU505. Twenty-six of the passengers on the flight — 18 Taiwanese citizens and eight Chinese citizens — who transferred to Taiwan on seven separate flights later that same day, were located by the CDC within two days thanks to extensive news reporting, Shih said. None of them was detected to have the flu, he noted.
To prevent an outbreak in Taiwan, the quarantine authorities began in late April to make on-board checks of passengers on flights arriving from North America, and no local suspected or confirmed cases have been reported.
According to statistics compiled by the World Health Organization Saturday, 3,440 confirmed cases of swine flu have been reported in 29 countries, with 48 deaths.
Also yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) issued a yellow travel alert for Japan, bringing the number of countries and areas that Taiwan has tagged with a yellow advisory since the outbreak of swine flu to 28.
“In light of the fact that Japan has confirmed three human infections of swine flu, the Foreign Ministry has issued a yellow travel alert for the country and is advising citizens to take health precautions,” the MOFA’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said in a press release.
In addition, yellow travel alerts have been issued for Australia and Panama, which also have confirmed cases, it added.
The three-color travel advisory scale has a yellow alert as its lowest level, serving as a reminder for travelers to exercise caution, while an orange travel alert advises travelers to postpone their trips and a red alert warns travelers not to enter the area in question under any circumstances.
The Japanese government announced earlier that day that a teacher and two students returning from North America had tested positive for swine flu, the first confirmed cases of the disease in that nation.
The confirmed cases in Japan raised particular concern in Taiwan because Japanese tourists constitute the biggest segment of international tourist arrivals to Taiwan, with more than one million visitors each year.
At present, Mexico — the source of the worldwide outbreak — is the only country for which the MOFA has issued a red travel alert, although yellow alerts have been issued for 28 countries and areas including the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, South Korea, Hong Kong, El Salvador and Israel.
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