Killer Swine Flu Bug Emerges in Mexico: It May be Spreading North to the USA




According to the health officials in Mexico City are launching a massive vaccination outreach against what other sources are calling a new, never before seen strain of swine flu.  This action was apparently prompted by nearly a thousand infections with some 45 deaths that may be a result of the new bug.  Here are three mainstream news sources, Reuters, Associated Press and Bloomberg who have now written on the subject.  This would seem to be a serious and developing story with the possibility (not certainty) of a pandemic.  In any event the cat is out of the bag and it’s wise to keep an eye on this outbreak because most of what I’ve read on the subject indicates that we’ve been very lucky, by historical standards, that we haven’t had an outbreak sooner.  In other words we’re overdue for a nasty bug and we have been for some years.

New, deadly swine flu hits Mexico, may spread

24 Apr 2009 15:22:25 GMT

Source: Reuters

Mexican government announces fatal swine flu outbreak

* New mixture of viruses never seen before

* Some Mexico City residents don surgical masks (Updates with color, quotes)

By Noel Randewich and Armando Tovar

MEXICO CITY, April 24 (Reuters) – A deadly strain of swine flu never seen before has broken out in Mexico, killing at least 16 people and raising fears it is spreading across North America.

The World Health Organization said it was concerned about what it called 800 “influenza-like” cases in Mexico, and also about a confirmed outbreak of a new strain of swine flu in the United States.

Mexico canceled classes for millions of children in its sprawling capital city and surrounding areas on Friday after authorities noticed a higher number of deaths involving flu-like illness than normal in recent weeks.

“It is a virus that mutated from pigs and then at some point was transmitted to humans,” Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova told the Televisa network.

He linked the disease in Mexico to a new kind of swine flu that struck seven people in California and Texas.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the virus in the United States was a never-before-seen mixture of viruses typical among pigs, birds and humans. All seven American patients have recovered.

The Mexican government warned people not to shake hands or kiss when greeting or share food, glasses or cutlery for fear of contracting the flu.

Mexico City, one of the world’s biggest cities and home to some 20 million people, was quieter than usual on Friday morning. Normally choking traffic was less chaotic in the absence of school buses and parents driving kids to school.

Many people waiting to enter subway stations had their faces covered with surgical masks.

The virus is an influenza A virus, carrying the designation H1N1. It contains DNA typical to avian, swine and human viruses, including elements from European and Asian swine viruses, the CDC has said.

WHO said about 60 people in Mexico have died from the disease. The Geneva-based U.N. agency said it was in daily contact with U.S., Canadian and Mexican authorities and had activated its Strategic Health Operations Center (SHOC) — its command and control center for acute public health events.

Surveillance for and scrutiny of influenza has been stepped up since 2003, when H5N1 bird flu reappeared in Asia. Experts fear this strain, or another strain, could spark a pandemic that could kill millions. (Additional reporting by Maggie Fox in Washington and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Frances Kerry, Editing by Eric Walsh)


Health experts hunt new swine flu after 7 sickened


By MIKE STOBBE, AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe, Ap Medical Writer – 22 mins ago

ATLANTA – Federal health experts expect to find more cases of a unique new form of swine flu as they check people who had contact with seven California and Texas residents diagnosed with the illness.

All of the seven victims recovered from the flu that combines pig, bird and human viruses in a way that researchers have not seen before, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The cases are a growing medical mystery because it’s unclear how they caught the virus. The CDC said none of the seven people were in contact with pigs, which is how people usually catch swine flu. And only a few were in contact with each other.

Still, health officials said it’s not a cause for public alarm: The five in California and two in Texas all recovered, only one person was hospitalized and testing indicates some mainstream antiviral medications seem to work against the virus.

Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC said officials believe it can spread human-to-human, which is unusual for a swine flu virus.

The CDC is checking people who have been in contact with the seven confirmed cases, who all became ill between late March and mid-April.

Because of intensive searching, it’s likely health officials will find additional cases, said Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

CDC officials detected a virus with a unique combination of gene segments that have not been seen in people or pigs before. The bug contains human virus, avian virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia.

Health officials have seen mixes of bird, pig and human virus before, but never such an intercontinental combination with more than one pig virus in the mix.

Scientists keep a close eye on flu viruses that emerge from pigs. The animals are considered particularly susceptible to both avian and human viruses and a likely place where the kind of genetic reassortment can take place that might lead to a new form of pandemic flu, said Dr. John Treanor, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The virus may be something completely new, or it may have been around for a while but was only detected now because of improved lab testing and disease surveillance, CDC officials said.

The virus was first detected in two children in southern California — a 10-year-old boy in San Diego County and a 9-year-old girl in neighboring Imperial County.

The cases were detected under unusual circumstances. One was seen at a Navy clinic that participates in a specialized disease detection network, and the other was caught through a specialized surveillance system set up in border communities, CDC officials said.

On Thursday, investigators said they had discovered five more cases. That includes a father and his teenage daughter in San Diego County, a 41-year-old woman in Imperial County who was the only person hospitalized, and two 16-year-old boys who are friends and live in Guadalupe County, Texas, near San Antonio.

The Texas cases are especially puzzling. One of the California cases — the 10-year-old boy — traveled to Texas early this month, but that was to Dallas, about 270 miles northeast of San Antonio. He did not travel to the San Antonio area, Schuchat said.

The two 16-year-olds had not traveled recently, Texas health officials said.

The swine flu’s symptoms are like those of the regular flu, mostly involving fever, cough and sore throat, though some of the seven also experienced vomiting and diarrhea.

CDC are not calling it an outbreak, a term that suggests ongoing illnesses. It’s not known if anyone is getting sick from the virus right now, CDC officials said.

It’s also not known if the seasonal flu vaccine that Americans got last fall and early this year protects against this type of virus. People should wash their hands and take other customary precautions, CDC officials said.

U.S. health officials are consulting with Mexican and Canadian health officials, and the CDC is beginning to receive samples from Mexico for testing, a CDC spokesman said. The ethnicity of the seven confirmed cases was not disclosed.




Swine Flu, Mexico Lung Illness Heighten Pandemic Risk (Update1)

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By Jason Gale

April 24 (Bloomberg) — Disease trackers are trying to determine whether a previously unseen strain of influenza in the U.S. is related to more than 130 cases of severe respiratory illness in Mexico and may spark a pandemic.

A new variant of H1N1 swine influenza has sickened at least seven patients in California and Texas, the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday. Mexico’s Health Minister Jose Cordova canceled classes in the capital, Mexico City, today and recommended citizens avoid public places after 20 fatalities from an illness possibly caused by a flu virus.

Scientists in both countries and Canada are studying the illnesses to determine whether they pose a larger public health threat. A pandemic can start when a novel influenza type-A virus, including swine flu, begins spreading, since no one has a natural immunity. The so-called 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which may have killed as many as 50 million people, began when an avian flu virus jumped to people, experts said.

“The infection of humans with a novel influenza-A virus infection of animal origins, as has happened here, is of concern because of the risk, albeit small, that this could represent the appearance of viruses with pandemic potential,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.

There’s no evidence a pandemic strain is evolving in the U.S., the Stockholm-based agency said. The CDC reached the same conclusion.

“We don’t think this is a time for major concern,” Anne Schuchat, CDC’s director of respiratory diseases, told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

Health-Care Workers

Authorities in Mexico asked the Public Health Agency of Canada to help identify what’s causing the lung infection that has also spread to five health-care workers, the Ottawa-based agency said in an e-mail yesterday.

Canada’s National Microbiology Lab received 51 specimens from Mexico on April 22 and will test them for pathogens. Tests in Mexico found patients had the H1N1 and type-B influenza strains and the parainfluenza virus, the agency said.

Three main human flu strains — H3N2, H1N1 and type-B — cause 250,000 to 500,000 deaths a year globally, according to the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency. Pigs also are susceptible to flu, including the H1N1 subtype.

“It will be critical to determine whether or not the strains of H1N1 isolated from patients in Mexico are also swine flu,” Donald Low, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, told the Canadian Press.

The CDC is discussing its cases and viruses with Mexico and the Pan American Health Organization, Schuchat said.

“At this point, we do not have any confirmation of swine influenza in Mexico,” Schuchat said.

Fatal Cases

Thirteen fatal cases of severe respiratory illness were reported in Mexico City; four in San Luis Potosi, north of the capital; two in the state of Baja California Norte, bordering California; and another in Oaxaca city in the south. Most cases occurred in southern and central Mexico in previously healthy adults ages 25 to 44.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, eye pain, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue with rapid progression of symptoms to severe respiratory distress in about five days, the Canadian agency said. A “high proportion” of cases require mechanical respiration, it said.

The four males and three females in San Diego County and Imperial County, California, and in San Antonio, Texas, diagnosed with swine flu had mild flu-like symptoms. The patients, 9 to 54 years old, included a father-daughter pair and two boys attending the same Texas school.

Human-to-Human Spread

The virus is contagious and spreading from human to human, the CDC said in a statement on its Web site. The patients began feeling sick from March 28 to April 19. All have recovered and only one was hospitalized, according to the CDC. None had direct contact with pigs.

“That’s unusual,” Schuchat said. “We don’t know yet how widely it’s spreading and we certainly don’t know the extent of the problem.”

As precaution, CDC is preparing the virus as a vaccine seed strain that could be used to make immunizations, she said.

The swine flu virus contains four different gene segments representing both North American swine and avian influenza, human flu and a Eurasian swine flu, CDC said.

“We haven’t seen this strain before, but we haven’t been looking as intensively as we are these days,” Schuchat said. “It’s very possible that this is something new that hasn’t been happening before.”

Human Infections

Swine influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type-A influenza that regularly causes outbreaks among the animals, according to the CDC. Swine flu doesn’t normally infect people, though human infections do occur and cases of human-to- human spread of swine flu viruses have been documented.

Infection in pigs is regarded as especially problematic because of the risk of “reassortment” to produce a new virus, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said.

“These mild U.S. cases infected with a novel influenza are not reflecting the emergence of a pandemic strain, but they at least raise the possibility that there has been limited human- to-human transmission,” the health agency said.




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