Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu red alert

Deadly virus sparks panic


By KESSIE TADAP in The National


HEALTH and quarantine officials are keeping a close watch on the deadly swine flu outbreak in Mexico that has spread to several countries, including New Zealand, and poses a risk of becoming a global pandemic.

The illness has claimed 103 lives in Mexico and dozens of cases have been reported in seven countries including the United States, causing the US government to declare a health emergency.

National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA) chief quarantine officer of animals, Dr Nime Kapo, told The National that NAQIA and the Health Department were working together in keeping a close eye on the current situation in Asia as well as having a contingency plan for PNG should the pandemic reach our shores.

“Yes we are monitoring the situation together with the Health people,” Dr Kapo said.

“We are also working on a national flu plan that will be used if the flu is detected in PNG.”

He said this outbreak was not among pigs although it originated from pigs, so it is really the Health Department which should be the right people to have a say on this because the epidemic was an outbreak among humans.

“We have had a lot of queries from the media and press, so the Health Department and NAQIA are putting together an information sheet that will hopefully be put out in public and in the media about the swine flu,” Dr Kapo said.

In PNG, pigs are of significant value and are an important part of compensation payments and important items during bride price, death, initiation and other traditional and customary feasts.

Several countries including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Russia and China stepped up quarantine measures and drew up contingency plans to stop the spread of swine flu.

Stock markets across the globe took a battering as investors reacted to the news.

The World Health Organisation has declared the deadly outbreak a public health emergency of “pandemic potential” after the deaths of 103 people in Mexico from what was described as pneumonia caused by a flu-like illness.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan said last week that the outbreak was of a never before seen virus and that it was a very serious situation.

WHO said that some of those who have died were confirmed to have a unique version of the A/H1N1 flu virus that was a combination of bird, pig and human viruses.


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