Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flue toll rises to 152 in Mexico as 91 Aussies investigated

Click on title to get the link from The Herald Sun, Australia.

Keep in mind, 250,000 to 500,000 people in the world,die of the flu each year.

From the other side of the world, the story continues.

Staff reporters

April 29, 2009 12:00am

April 29, 2009 12:00am
UPDATE 8.03am: AUTHORITIES are investigating almost 100 possible swine flu cases in Australia as new quarantine powers were enacted.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce has consented to sweeping new quarantine powers, Approved by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last night, for health officials in response to the global outbreak of swine flu.

There are 91 possible swine flu cases being investigated in Australia, including 22 locals who were on the same flight as three New Zealand students now confirmed as being infected.

The remaining cases, a third of them from Queensland, are showing flu-like symptoms and are being tested with the results are expected in the next 48 hours.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon approached Ms Bryce last night to approve the powers, which include allowing authorities to detain people suspected of having the potentially deadly virus.

"Using disinfectants on planes or at ports, through to the far more extreme (powers) which are making sure that people are isolated and perhaps detained if they don't cooperate and are showing symptoms of this disease," she told ABC Radio today.

But Ms Roxon stressed they were only precautionary measures and won't necessarily be used.

"We are not about to take those steps but we want to make sure that all the powers are there, that we are ready to act if this takes a dramatic turn for the worst," she said.

Airlines and tour operators have taken the dramatic step of suspending flights to Mexico as the death toll from the deadly swine flu climbed above 150.

As panic over the virus grows, Costa Rica became the first Central American nation to confirm a case of swine flu, while the number of cases in the United States, Europe, Israel and New Zealand continued to increase.

The World Health Organisation said it was "critical" that travellers from Mexico who might be infected be identified, but it did not recommend travel bans.

The body has not declared an outright pandemic, despite the spread of the flu from Mexico to seven other countries.

But it was clear many companies and authorities were already treating the emergency as a global issue.

"Swine flu is an international problem now, it's crossed two continents, it's got to be dealt with by international agreements," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in Poland.

Cuba today suspended flights to and from Mexico until Saturday.

A Canadian airline, Air Transat, said it was also halting flights to Mexico until June 1.

And French travel firms announced they were suspending all trips to the country.

Australia, along with Britain, Canada, France, Sri Lanka and Switzerland, is advising against travel to Mexico.

The Government also upgraded its pandemic alert status from "alert" to "delay phase".

This involves an acceleration of preparedness, and efforts to delay the arrival of the virus here through upgraded border protection.

The revised status is one step short of having a confirmed case in Australia.

Health authorities have warned it was a matter when, not if, the deadly virus will strike in Victoria.

The grim prognosis comes after eight people feared to have carried swine flu into Melbourne were cleared of contamination.

Five passengers were yesterday detained on flights arriving at Melbourne Airport shortly before 8am until health authorities could perform on-board health checks.

Quarantine inspectors and officers from the Department of Human Services assessed three adults and two children, who arrived on two different flights from North America, and cleared them of having the deadly virus.

Nurses have been stationed at international airports to detect and treat anyone suspected of carrying the virus.

As the number of suspected cases grew:

DOCTORS reported a rush by patients seeking anti-viral medicines.

DRUG companies Roche and GlaxoSmithKline rushed to bolster stocks of Tamiflu and Relenza, which ease symptoms of the virus, while trying to develop a specific treatment.

FEDERAL Cabinet was briefed on the pandemic threat by Commonwealth chief medical officer Professor Jim Bishop.

Tests cleared three Victorians who returned from the US on Monday suffering illness.

In Mexico, where the outbreak started, 152 are dead with more than 1600 suspected cases.

The World Health Organisation upgraded its pandemic threat level to four, which is two steps short of declaring a full-blown pandemic.

A phase four alert means human-to-human transmission is causing outbreaks in at least one country.

Victoria's Chief Health Officer, Dr John Carnie, said the state was in "delay phase" and trying to keep the virus out by identifying potentially contaminated patients.

"You just have to consider the number of incoming flights into this country," he said. "The fact that more countries overnight are reporting cases, it appears to be a matter of time before we see a confirmed case in Australia.

"We are trying to delay the entry of this virus into Australia -- no one has ever said we can absolutely guarantee that we can completely prevent it forever."

The WHO will raise the pandemic alert to level five or six if widespread infection takes place.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia had huge stocks of anti-viral medicines in case of emergency.

At Melbourne Airport some Customs officers were wearing face masks.

- Ben Packham and Grant McArthur with agencies
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