May 8, 2009

US H1N1 Infections Double

The CDC said Friday that the number of U.S. cases of swine flu had doubled almost overnight.

Meanwhile, the death toll attributed to H1N1 infections in Mexico edged up slightly.

As of Friday, the number of confirmed U.S. H1N1 cases is now 1,639 in 43 states, nearly twice as many as the 896 cases reported as of Thursday.

However, CDC spokesman Dave Daigle said the increase "does not reflect a speed up of the epidemic."

Rather, it is an indication of the growing number of places now able to test for the virus.

In Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the H1N1 flu virus was waning, and that the last death on May 4 was not caused by a new infection.

Life has slowly been returned to normal in Mexico with the reopening of tourist sites, restaurants, and theaters.  Universities and high schools reopened on Thursday, while primary schools are set to resume on Monday.

In Hong Kong, which was hit in 2003 with a deadly SARS epidemic that killed 300 people, more than 280 guests and staff were allowed to leave a hotel after having been quarantined since last Friday.  The quarantine was triggered by news that a Mexican who had tested positive for H1N1 had stayed at the hotel.

Guests rushed into the street and faced hoards of reporters and photographers as the hotel's doors opened.

"It's fantastic to have fresh air," a Portuguese man, who declined to give his name, told the AFP as he left the hotel.

Those quarantined inside the hotel were anxious to see the outside world again and put the ordeal behind them.

"I will leave for home as early as possible on Saturday -- my family is worried about me," Shi Wenjing, a 26-year-old translator, told the AFP.

"I have been away from my son for 10 days. We have a webcam chat every day and he would always ask why his mother has still not come back."

The Mexican man who triggered the Hong Kong quarantine was released from hospital late Friday, according to health officials.

In Japan, the health ministry said it was testing a man and a boy who had returned from the United States on Friday.  If they test positive, it would be Japan's first H1N1 infections.

Although a six-year-old Japanese boy was confirmed to have the disease, he was in Chicago at the time and has since recovered, said Japan's foreign ministry.

In South America, Argentina reported its first confirmed case of swine flu, while Brazil reported its first four confirmed cases.

Tamiflu, a drug currently being stockpiled by governments worldwide in preparation for a feared pandemic, can be used two years longer than previously stated, said experts in Europe.

"Tamiflu capsules that are already on the market may be used for up to two more years after their current five-year expiry date during a declared pandemic," said the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) in a statement.

The EMEA also provided recommendations for use of Tamiflu for babies and expectant mothers in the case of a pandemic.   Typically, expectant mothers and babies are advised not to take Tamiflu, made by Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche and one of only two drugs being used to treat swine flu. The other drug is Relenza, made by GlaxoSmithKline.

However, "the benefits of the use of Tamiflu outweigh its risks in the treatment of children under the age of one," said the EMEA, which reached the same conclusion for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Asian officials meeting in Bangkok agreed to add to their stockpiles of the anti-flu drugs.

"We cannot afford to let our guards down. A pandemic remains a formidable challenge to our region," an AFP report quoted Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as saying.

Swine flu and preparations for a possible pandemic will be a priority during the upcoming May 18 World Health Organization annual meeting in Geneva.


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