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  • Australian Swine Flu Tally Hits 303

    Posted on May 31st, 2009 admin No comments

    Over 300 people have been diagnosed with swine flu in Australia, health authorities have confirmed.

    The number of swine flu cases diagnosed in Victoria has risen to 212 – making up more than two thirds of the national total.

    Australians in all states and territories are now affected with the virus, with Queensland reporting 20 cases, New South Wales 57, South Australia seven, the ACT four and Tasmania, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory have one case each.

    The latest cases are those of 39 people aged from five to 18 in Melbourne and two children and an adult at Cairns, in Queensland’s north.

    Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the measures to contain the spread of swine flu will be stepped up if the rate of spread continues.

    “They now include cases in every state and territory, so we have one in Tasmania, and one in the northern territory,” she said.

    “The largest increases still remain here in Victoria, where we have 10 schools that are currently closed, although a number of those are commencing to reopen early next week.”

     

    Containment measures

     

    Ms Roxon says tracing people who have been diagnosed with the virus and those they have had contact with will no longer be an appropriate containment measure, if the numbers continue to rise

    “There is a tipping point at which it won’t be possible to continue to do that and where we can assess that the disease really has become a community disease,” she said.

    “Then we’d move to a new phase where all of those efforts go into treatment and identification of people who are at risk. We’re not at that point yet.”

    The Victorian Government’s request for 5,000 surgical masks has been approved by the Federal Government.

    The masks, to be used to deal with the swine flu outbreak, are on the way to the Department of Human Services in Melbourne.

    Meanwhile, health officials say they are waiting on one last test result for swine flu from passengers on board the cruise ship the Pacific Dawn, which is travelling back to Sydney.

    Nine test results from suspected swine flu cases from passengers have come back negative, but there is still one more being processed in Queensland.

    If that swab is negative all of the remaining 1,800 passengers on board will be able to disembark as normal tomorrow morning.

    But if the swab comes back positive for swine flu, a range of containment measures will be put in place including the isolation of the infected passenger.

     

    Cruise ship tests

     

    So far there have been no positive swine flu results among the passengers but the last lot of tests were collected from the ship at Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales mid-north coast this morning.

    The Health Department’s head of communicable diseases, Dr Jeremy McNulty, says analysis is now underway.

    “The results of those will determine the next phase and we’ll have more information about that later this evening,” he said.

    The 1,800 remaining passengers on board the ship which docks in Sydney tomorrow are still waiting to learn if they will be allowed to disembark, or be forced to remain in quarantine.

    The new head of the Australian Medical Association says health authorities have not overreacted to the swine flu threat.

    Dr Andrew Pesce says officials have taken the appropriate precautions.

    “As an obstetrician, I’m very familiar with the fact that everything seems okay until something goes terribly wrong,” he said.

    “I think it’s very, very important to keep on top of things.

    “I think there’s been an appropriate amount of concern raised in the community to make sure that people do follow sensible precautions to minimise the risks of getting the disease.”

  • Swine Flu Spreading Faster In UK Than Anywhere Else In European Union

    Posted on May 30th, 2009 admin No comments

    Britain is the only member state where more people have caught the disease at home than abroad, raising concerns about infection control

     

    Swine flu is spreading more rapidly in Britain than anywhere else in the European Union, according to the latest figures on the outbreak.

    European health officials confirmed that as of this morning, 456 people had caught the H1N1 virus across 21 EU member states, with almost half of those infected living in the UK.

  • Swine Flu Vaccine Won’t Be Ready Until October

    Posted on May 30th, 2009 admin No comments

    A vaccine for the H1N1 swine flu virus could be ready in October, if research and testing proceed on pace this summer, a leading U.S. health official said Thursday.

    Candidate viruses have been shipped to vaccine manufacturers. But federal officials will have to monitor the safety and effectiveness of any vaccines produced, before full-scale production could begin, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interim deputy director for science and public health program, said during an afternoon press conference.

    “If everything went really well it would not be until the fall before a vaccine would become available. We are saying at this point not before October,” Schuchat said.

    It’s still not clear whether a swine flu vaccine is needed, Schuchat said. Any decision to move forward would be based on several factors, including the severity and spread of the virus and whether there’s a safe and effective vaccine, she said.

    So far, infections with the H1N1 swine flu virus continue to be mild and recovery is fairly quick, as is the case with seasonal flu, officials said. On Thursday, the CDC was reporting a total of 8,585 cases in 48 states, including 12 deaths. Testing has found that the virus remains susceptible to two common antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, according to the CDC.

    Schuchat said the newly identified H1N1 virus continues to behave much like seasonal H1N1 viruses, which may partly explain why this flu strain affects more younger people. “Seasonal H1N1 often causes more disease in younger people, compared with the other strains that can be more common in older people,” she said.

    Also, when seasonal H1N1 flu strains dominate there are fewer deaths than when H3N2 flu strains dominate, Schuchat said.

    “There will be decisions later in the summer or early fall about whether to actually finish the vaccine and how large-scale the production might be, and whether or not an immunization program is going to be recommended for some or much of the population,” she said.

    Some older people may have partial immunity to the H1N1 swine flu virus because of possible exposure to another H1N1 flu strain circulated prior to 1957. So far, 64 percent of cases of swine flu infection in the United States have been among people aged 5 to 24, while only 1 percent involves people over 65, officials said last week.

    One major difference in the new H1N1 strain is that it is spreading just at the time when the seasonal flu season is ending, Schuchat said. “This virus is circulating much later than annual flu viruses. We are really not seeing much of any seasonal flu viruses any more, but we’re continuing to see this strain circulate, even though we are almost at June,” she said.

    During the next few months, scientists will be looking to see if the swine flu virus mutates or becomes resistant to antiviral medications, or is more easily spread among people, she said. The flu season is winding down in the Northern Hemisphere but is just beginning in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Schuchat said there’s no way to tell now if the H1N1 virus will be more virulent when — and if — it returns to the Northern Hemisphere with the approach of winter. “Whether it will dominate among the seasonal flu viruses or whether it will disappear is not predictable right now,” she said Tuesday.

    The World Health Organization said Thursday that 48 countries have reported 13,398 cases of infection, including 95 deaths, most of them in Mexico, where the outbreak began.

  • Possible Return Of Swine Flu In Fall Has U.S. Health Officials On Alert

    Posted on May 27th, 2009 admin No comments

    As the H1N1 swine flu virus continues to wax and wane in different parts of the country, U.S. health officials said they were working as fast as possible to learn as much as they can about the novel pathogen before the return of the flu season in the fall.

    The reason for the urgency: Some past pandemics were preceded by “herald waves” of a flu strain that surfaced at the end of one flu season, only to return with far greater consequences the next flu season.

    “We are mindful that pandemics of influenza have sometimes come in waves,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interim deputy director for science and public health program, said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “The very severe 1918 pandemic had a moderate herald wave in the spring and a much more severe second wave in the fall. So that very terrible experience of 1918 is in our minds.”

    Some estimates have placed the worldwide death toll from the 1918 outbreak — often referred to as the “Spanish Flu” — as high as 40 million people.

    “We are really on a fast track, over the next to eight to 10 weeks, to learn as much as we can as this virus heads to the Southern Hemisphere [where flu season is just beginning] and to strengthen our planning for the surge of illness that we expect to experience here in the fall,” Schuchat added.

    Scientists will be looking to see if the H1N1 swine flu virus mutates or becomes resistant to antiviral medications, or is more easily spread among people, she said.

    Schuchat said there’s no way to tell now if the H1N1 virus will be more virulent when — and if — it returns to the Northern Hemisphere with the approach of winter. “Whether it will dominate among the seasonal flu viruses or whether it will disappear is not predictable right now,” she said.

    To date there have been 7,927 confirmed and probable cases of infection in the United States, the CDC reported Wednesday. Most of the cases have been mild and patients have recovered quickly.

    The CDC was reporting 11 deaths linked to the swine flu, and all of the victims had underlying health problems before they were infected.

    The World Health Organization said Wednesday that 48 countries have reported 13,398 cases of infection, including 95 deaths, most of them in Mexico, where the outbreak began.

    The CDC said last week that progress was being made toward the development of an H1N1 swine flu vaccine, with two promising candidate viruses for use in such a shot. And U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Friday that the federal government was allocating $1 billion to the search for a swine flu vaccine.

    In the United States, most cases of the swine flu continue to be no worse than seasonal flu. Testing has found that the swine flu virus remains susceptible to two common antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, according to the CDC.

    The CDC says some older people may have partial immunity to the H1N1 swine flu virus because of possible exposure to another H1N1 flu strain circulating prior to 1957. So far, 64 percent of cases of swine flu infection in the United States have been among people aged 5 to 24, while only 1 percent involves people over 65, officials said last week.

  • New Swine Flu Cases Linked To School

    Posted on May 27th, 2009 admin No comments

    More than 40 children confirmed as suffering from swine flu at a school in Britain on Tuesday are responding well to treatment, health authorities said.

    The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said a total of 44 cases of swine flu were linked to a primary school in the Handsworth area of Birmingham in central England, and the number is expected to rise in the coming days.

    But a spokeswoman for the Agency said none of the total of 50 patients linked to the school — some of which were confirmed last week — had required hospital treatment. They are being given anti-viral medication at home.

    In a statement, the Department of Health said all the cases seen in Britain so far were “mild” and that there was no evidence of “widespread community transmission”.

    On its website, the 460-pupil Welford Primary School said it had noticed a high number of absences due to illness early last week, and on official advice it closed last Thursday, one day before a scheduled week’s holiday.

    The local branch of the HPA said the school was undergoing a “deep clean” before re-opening next week.

    The 47 new cases of swine flu cases confirmed on Tuesday — including three cases elsewhere in England — took the total number of confirmed cases in Britain to 184.

    According to the latest tally from the World Health Organization, issued on Tuesday, 12,954 people have been infected with A(H1N1) across 46 countries, including 91 who died.

  • New Flu Cases Linked To Birmingham Primary School

    Posted on May 27th, 2009 admin No comments

    More than 40 children confirmed as suffering from swine flu at a school in Birmingham are responding well to treatment, health officials have said.

    The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said a total of 44 cases of swine flu were linked to a primary school in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, and the number is expected to rise in the coming days.

    But a spokeswoman for the Agency said none of the total of 50 patients linked to the school — some of which were confirmed last week — had required hospital treatment. They are being given anti-viral medication at home.

    In a statement, the Department of Health said all of the 184 cases of swine flu discovered to date were “mild” and that there was no evidence of “widespread community transmission”.

    On its website, the 460-pupil Welford Primary School said it had noticed a high number of absences due to illness early last week, and on official advice it closed last Thursday, one day before a scheduled week’s holiday.

    The local branch of the HPA said the school was undergoing a “deep clean” before re-opening next week.

    The 47 new cases of swine flu cases confirmed on Tuesday — including three cases discovered elsewhere — took the total number of confirmed cases to 184.

    According to the latest tally from the World Health Organization, issued on Tuesday, 12,954 people have been infected with A(H1N1) across 46 countries, including 91 who died.

  • WHO Raises Global Swine Flu Tally

    Posted on May 26th, 2009 admin No comments

    The WHO has added 439 new cases of swine flu to its global tally, raising its total of confirmed cases to 12,954. The agency also raised the overall death toll by one to 92.

    The WHO said yesterday 46 countries had reported laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus. About half of all cases were in the US.

    Authorities in Mexico announced three more swine flu deaths and the US and Canada one more death each. Puerto Rico and the Czech Republic confirmed their first cases of swine flu on Monday but were not yet included in the WHO tally.

    Meanwhile, the world’s largest vaccine maker signed a deal with the US to produce a swine flu vaccine.

    Sanofi Pasteur said it had won a US$190 million order from the US government to make a swine flu vaccine. The company, which operates flu vaccine production plants in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, and Val de Reuil, France, said it was also talking to other governments about their vaccine needs.

    The company is awaiting a seed virus to be used in vaccine production from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and could begin commercial production next month.

    In the US, federal health authorities have confirmed 6,700 swine flu cases, most of them mild. But New York health officials reported another death over the weekend.

    Damon Arnold, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health said the latest victim, a Chicago-area resident, had other medical conditions, but authorities released no other information about the person.

    In Canada, officials said on Monday that a Toronto man who had swine flu but also suffered a chronic medical condition died on Saturday.

    Mexico’s Health Ministry on Monday confirmed a rise in the country’s flu deaths to 83, with more than 4,458 confirmed infections from the virus.

    Honduras, Iceland and Kuwait meanwhile reported infections to the WHO for the first time, with Honduras and Iceland posting a case each and Kuwait reporting 18 cases in US soldiers who had since left the country.

    In Hong Kong, officials confirmed two new cases of swine flu in young children who arrived on a flight from New York on Sunday, raising the city’s total number of cases to nine.

    Also stemming from a New York infection, the Czech Republic registered its first swine flu case involving an adult male from Prague who recently came back from the US city.

    Worldwide, fears grew while attempts to contain the disease continued. Japanese shops ran out of face masks amid the outbreak as local authorities and bloggers offered tips on making homemade masks from kitchen paper, coffee filters and even sanitary pads.

    The western city of Tatsuno posted handy hints on its official Web site on fashioning a basic anti-flu mask from gauze, tissue and a pair of rubber bands.

    Latin America saw most of the new swine flu cases on Monday, as Ecuador’s infected tally rose to 24 over the weekend after officials reported 10 on Friday. Peru raised its confirmed swine flu cases by two to 27.

    In China, authorities confirmed two more cases of the swine flu in a 19-year-old man in Zhejiang Province and in a 30-year-old Shanghai man.

    In South Korea, the 22nd confirmed case of swine flu followed a sharp weekend rise in reported infections.

  • Swine Flu Outbreak At Birmingham School Infects 44

    Posted on May 26th, 2009 admin No comments

    An outbreak of swine flu at a Birmingham primary school led to 44 new cases of the virus being confirmed yesterday, the largest number in a single day since the spread began.

    Pupils at Welford primary in Handsworth, Birmingham, began feeling ill last week when three cases were initially diagnosed. Yesterday, lab results confirmed a further 44 infections at the school. They included 41 children and three adults. Three more people from the east of England and London were also diagnosed, taking the total in the UK so far to 184, the Department of Health said.

    The Health Protection Agency (HPA) insisted that high rates of infection were to be expected in school environments where children come into close contact with one another. The school is closed this week for half term and expected to open for all pupils who are feeling well next week.

    Before the holidays began, the headteacher informed the HPA there had been an unusually high number of absences owing to illness. At least 100 children had been off sick, according to local reports. As a result of the first confirmed case, all parents and staff were told either to attend the school over the weekend to collect antiviral medication or to receive medical attention at home.

    A joint statement issued by the school and the HPA, posted on the school’s website, says that it is undergoing a “deep clean” of the premises during the holiday before it reopens. The headteacher, Chris Smith, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

    The HPA said that all confirmed cases are being treated at home with antivirals and are responding well to treatment. HPA officers contacted every parent of children in the school as well as teachers to find out if they have symptoms.

    A spokeswoman for the HPA said that they had not yet identified the source of the outbreak. “The initial case is still under investigation. The vast majority of cases have been in people recently returning from an infected country or who have been in close contact with someone who has just returned. This is one of a very small number of cases where there isn’t that history,” she said.

    The school recently featured in a BBC2 documentary called The Primary, about building a multicultural school community with children of 17 different nationalities. The school has 420 pupils and 60 in its nursery unit.

    Almost 50 countries have now confirmed cases of swine flu and about 13,000 people around the world have been diagnosed with the virus. The death toll from the virus in Mexico stands at 83, while 12 people have died in the United States and two have died in Canada.

    Of four cases confirmed on Monday in the UK, one was yesterday revealed to be a two-year-old boy from Oxford.

    A DoH spokesman said: “The localised cases of swine flu found in the UK have so far been mild, and we have not seen evidence of widespread community transmission. Our strategy of containing the spread with anti-virals appears to have been effective in reducing symptoms and preventing further spread of infection.

    “But we must not be complacent – it is right to prepare for the possibility of a global pandemic. The UK’s arrangements are continuing, to ensure that we are well-placed to deal with this new infection.”

  • Swine Flu Toll Rises To 122

    Posted on May 24th, 2009 admin No comments

    Two more people have been confirmed with the swine flu virus, taking the UK total to 122.

    The latest cases are both adults, one from London and the second from the East of England.

    The Health Protection Agency said the source of infection for the two latest cases remains under investigation.

    Of the total UK cases, more than half (66) are in the London area. The latest diagnosis takes the total for the East of England to 12.

    Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organisation said on Friday that swine flu was a “sneaky virus” which is likely to keep spreading.

  • Disease Hunters Add Swine Flu Genome to Arsenal

    Posted on May 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

    The genetic portrait of the novel swine flu strain that’s still spreading around the globe has been completed, but some mysteries remain.

    A huge international team of scientists sequenced the partial or full genomes of 51 samples of the virus from the United States and Mexico. While many genetic clues about the new H1N1 strain have trickled out, a new paper assembles the best working knowledge of the flu’s origins.

    As reported by Wired Science, the new virus combines genes from two swine flu viruses that first emerged in 1998. It’s still unclear how the disease made the jump into humans — either directly from pigs or through an intermediate host — and the molecular basis for how it spreads.

    “Many of the molecular markers predicted to be associated with adaptation to a human host or to the generation of a pandemic virus, such as in 1918 H1N1 or highly pathogenic H5N1, have not been identified in the 2009 H1N1 viruses characterized here,” the researchers write in Science.

    The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 100,000 people in the United States have now contracted swine flu. The good news is the disease is not highly virulent. It’s only caused 300 hospitalizations and fewer than 10 deaths. It also turns out that it might be easier to come up with a vaccine for swine flu, because it’s genetically homogenous, unlike the motley crew of seasonal flus. But in a press conference Friday, CDC officials warned that now that the flu is in humans, it could mutate faster than it had in swine, like standard human seasonal flu does.

    “We do expect that now that these viruses have been introduced into humans that they’ll evolve at the same rate that other seasonal influenza viruses mutate,” said Nancy Cox, chief of the influenza division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

    That could mean trouble later this year, if the virus re-emerges in a more virulent form during the standard winter flu season.

    Anne Schuchat of the Science and Public Health Program at the CDC also called for increased swine-disease surveillance and smart husbandry practices to reduce the chance that the disease will jump again into humans.

    “There are controls like good agricultural and good farming practices that can lead to recognition when there are ill animals and ways of taking care of the animals that reduce the chance that viruses will resist or swap around,” she said.

    Both statements seemed directed at large-scale pig farms, which as Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Farm Production, told Wired.com “are super-incubators for viruses.” They’ve come under criticism since the emergence of swine flu for pushing pig viruses onto “an evolutionary fast track.”