Africa still swine flu-free

Governments around the world are testing patients for the new H1N1 swine flu virus, hoping not to find it and dreading its spread.
The World Health Organisation doled out a steady toll of figures, saying the virus had officially been confirmed in Mexico, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Israel and Spain.
But at the same time officials said the numbers were not a clear indicator of the threat posed by the virus, as it takes days to confirm the new strain and most countries began taking action the moment suspected cases turned up, Reuters adds.
Health officials from seven African countries are discussing a response to swine flu at a conference in Ethiopia. To date, no cases of the flu have been positively identified in Africa, although two are now suspected in South Africa.
The conference, involving Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, was planned six months ago to talk about Africa’s poor response to pandemics.
“It’s really fortuitous that this is going on in the context of an international emergency,” Gregory Pappas, pandemic coordinator for U.S. charity Interaction, told Reuters.
“Most African countries haven’t done extensive planning, and this meeting is about helping those countries.”
Global response
In the US the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention was working to distribute test kits for the virus, identified only last week in the United States. Without the kits, verifying infection can take days.
Mexico remained the only country with deaths — 159 by the government’s estimate — and the epicenter of the outbreak.
Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said on Tuesday night that more than 1300 people were in hospitals, some of them “seriously” ill, out of a total of around 2500 suspected cases of the virus.
“In the last few days there has been a decline (in cases),” Cordova told a news conference. “The death figures have remained more or less stable.”
Cordova said the victims ranged from children through young adults and middle-aged people to the elderly, a different pattern to common seasonal flu that mainly kills the elderly and people with other underlying conditions.
“The distribution doesn’t follow a fixed pattern,” he said.
US officials confirmed 65 cases, mostly mild, and no deaths, but acting CDC director Dr. Richard Besser found little comfort in that.
“Numbers when it comes to an outbreak like this will change,” Besser said. “As we continue to investigate cases here, I expect that we will see deaths in this country.”
The WHO has edged up its pandemic warning to a stage 4 and said if it looked like people with no connection to Mexico were infecting more than just one other person, they would declare a stage 5 alert, meaning a pandemic was imminent.
Markets could be expected to react to another WHO move but appeared uncertain about the risk. Pork and related commodities such as grain and soybeans were affected but there were no big swings in currency markets.
Mexico City was unusually quiet with schools closed. Many took their children in to work, including a ruling party lawmaker whose young children spent the day in Congress.
People canceled beautician appointments, wary of close physical contact. “The customers are scared stupid. They don’t want to go out,” said hairdresser Esther Gonzalez.
As suspected cases began to crop up across Central America, El Salvador began sending nurses to check buses of Salvadoran migrants being deported from Mexico for flu-like symptoms.
Prevention better than cure?
Other countries worked to try to prevent travelers from bringing flu in.
Many of the measures may have seemed reassuring, but offered little real protection based on scientific evidence. In Singapore, thermal scanners were installed at airports to find people with fevers even though people infected with flu can spread it before and after they have a fever.
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told the Straits Times that nationals returning from Mexico would be quarantined.
Argentina also installed airport heat sensors and suspended flights from Mexico, as did Cuba.
The United States, Canada and the European Union have advised against nonessential travel to Mexico and companies instituted their own restrictions. Dupont Co suspended travel to and from Mexico until May 6.
Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd said they were temporarily suspending port calls in Mexico. Land-based tour groups were also calling off trips to the area’s beaches.
Tourists could not even seek solace in history. Mexico shut down all its Mayan ruins and Aztec pyramids, dotted through central and southern Mexico, until further notice.
US officials distributed flu drugs such as Roche AG and Gilead Sciences Inc’s Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza from the federal stockpile. ” “It includes gowns and masks and things that could be used in hospitals to take care of patients,” Besser said.
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said pork, soybean and corn prices had fallen in the last two days and decried what he said were illogical restrictions on pork.
Ten countries have put restrictions on imports of US pork or swine, including Russia, China, Philippines, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and Ecuador.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk praised the Japanese government for publicly stating it would not ban US pork.
“We want to make sure that a handful of our trading partners don’t take advantage of this legitimate concern over public health and engage in behavior that could also damage the world’s economy,” Kirk said at a news conference.