Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine Flu outbreak hits Mexico, parts of Texas and California

From Bloomberg, on the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and Texas:
April 25 (Bloomberg) -- The World Health Organization is set to declare the deadly swine flu virus outbreak in Mexico and the U.S. a global concern, potentially prompting travel restrictions, said a person familiar with the matter.

An emergency committee of the WHO in Geneva will declare the outbreak “a public health event of international concern” in a 4 p.m. teleconference today, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting is confidential. In response, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan may raise the level of pandemic alert, which could lead to travel restrictions aimed at curbing the disease’s spread.
Mexico’s Social Security Institute shut all of the theaters and cultural centers it operates nationwide to avoid spreading the flu strain -- reminiscent of actions implemented during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia. Travel curbs imposed there damaged economies throughout the region, where that virus circulated most widely.

In Singapore, where 33 infected people died, gross domestic product shrank 11.4 percent in the second quarter of 2003 because of the severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Teams of disease investigators have been sent to California and Texas to trace how the malady has spread, and the U.S. offered to send scientists to Mexico, said the CDC’s Besser. U.S. hospitals are being asked to collect samples from patients with flu-like symptoms, said Schaffner, chief of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt, in a telephone interview yesterday.

‘Sense of Urgency’

“They are asking us who work in hospitals to go to our emergency rooms and our pediatric wards to gather specimens and start testing them,” Schaffner said. “This has a sense of urgency about it.”

Mexico’s government has closed schools, museums, movie theaters and libraries in Mexico City and surrounding areas until further notice, according to an e-mail from the National Arts and Culture Council. It’s also handing out free facemasks and extending the deadline for filing taxes until May 31, Cordova said. A million doses of antiviral medicine are available for distribution, he said. [emphasis added] ...

Article here. Needless to say, a widespread outbreak would have serious public health consequences, including loss of life (particularly among young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems), as well as the potential for severe economic disruption. As the article notes, Singapore's GDP dropped 11.4% in the second quarter of 2003 due to the SARS epidemic.

As a general preparedness matter, having a personal stock of facemasks and gloves is something to consider, if you haven't already done so. Because if a serious flu outbreak ever hits your area, those items will become extremely scarce and possibly unobtainable, almost immediately. Plus, the masks and gloves (I like the nitrile ones) are sometimes useful around the house, e.g., when cleaning, etc. Besides, if a pandemic hits, who wouldn't want to be seen in public wearing those signature pandemic fashion accessories: a stylish N95 facemask and ultrahip purple nitrile gloves. :)

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