[Photo by JONATHAN VALANIA]
UPDATE: Mexico says the World Health Organization has raised its pandemic alert for swine flu by one level, two steps short of declaring a full-blown pandemic. Mexico health department spokesman Carlos Olmos confirms the move. WHO says the phase 4 alert means sustained human to human transmission causing outbreaks in at least one country. It signals a significant increase in the risk of a global epidemic, but doesn’t mean a pandemic is inevitable. Many experts think it may be impossible to contain a flu virus already spreading in several countries.
BBC: Governments around the world have been hurrying to contain the spread of a new swine flu virus after outbreaks were reported in Mexico, the US and Canada. At least 100 people are now suspected to have died of the disease in Mexico. The UN has warned the disease has the potential to become a pandemic, but said the world is better prepared than ever to deal with the threat. Stocks of anti-viral medicines are being readied and travellers are being screened at some airports for symptoms. Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said suspected swine flu cases in his country had risen to 1,614 including 103 deaths. Of those, 20 deaths are confirmed to have been caused by the new virus and tests are being investigated. The US, where 20 people are confirmed to have caught the virus, has declared a public health emergency. There are also confirmed cases in Canada, and investigations are being carried out on suspected cases in Spain, Israel and New Zealand. In most cases outside Mexico, people have been only mildly ill and have made a full recovery. MORE
HUFFPO: A single sneeze propels 100,000 droplets into the air at around 90 mph, landing on door knobs, ATM keypads, elevator buttons, escalator railings, and grocery cart handles. In a subway station at rush hour, according to British researchers, as many as 10 percent of all commuters can come in contact with the spray and residue from just one sneeze (or sternutation). That means as many as 150 commuters can be sickened by one uncovered achoo. MORE
WIKIPEDIA: The 1918 flu pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu) was an influenza pandemic that spread to nearly every part of the world. It was caused by an unusually virulent and deadly Influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify the geographic origin of the virus. Most of its victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or otherwise weakened patients. The pandemic lasted from March 1918 to June 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 100 million people were killed worldwide, or the approximate equivalent of one third of the population of Europe, more than double the number killed in World War I. This extraordinary toll resulted from the extremely high illness rate of up to 50% and the extreme severity of the symptoms, suspected to be caused by cytokine storms. The pandemic is estimated to have affected up to one billion people: half the world’s population at the time. MORE
RELATED: Well, as it turns out, volcano monitoring wasn’t the only worthwhile public safety program that was deemed extravagant in the stimulus package, funding for pandemic preparation was axed as well. And playing a critical role was Susan Collins — for whom the necessity of obtaining her vote is in inverse proportion to the intelligence she shows in policy making: “Famously, Maine Senator Collins, the supposedly moderate Republican who demanded cuts in health care spending in exchange for her support of a watered-down version of the stimulus, fumed about the pandemic funding: ‘Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill No, we should not’.” Even now, Collins continues to use her official website to highlight the fact that she led the fight to strip the pandemic preparedness money out of the Senate’s version of the stimulus measure. MORE
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Mr. Obama told a gathering of scientists that his administration’s Department of Health and Human Services had declared a public health emergency “as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively.” “This is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it’s not a cause for alarm,” Mr. Obama said. He said he was getting regular updates. The Senate has yet to confirm a secretary of human services, a surgeon general or a director of CDC. The absence of those officials left Dr. Besser and Ms. Napolitano to brief reporters on the swine flu outbreak. The quickening pace of developments in the U.S. in response to the spreading new flu strain was accompanied by a host of varying responses around the world. MORE
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GIZIMODO: The current H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic headlines read like those flashing through the intro sequence of a post-apocalyptical movie. Now you can see the cases spreading in real time—as the WHO declares them—in Google Maps. In case you have not been paying attention to the news during the last few days, there’s a pandemia going on. A spike of infections of the H1N1 Swine Flu—a mutation of a pork virus that jumped from pigs to humans—happened in the city of Mexico (103 dead already) and it is quickly spreading through the world now, thanks to airline connections. MORE
GRIST: Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company Web site. MORE
BIOSURVEILLANCE: Residents [of La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to ‘flu.’ However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. MORE
RELATED: Timeline Of Swine Flu Outbreak
POSSIBLY RELATED: Missing vials of a potentially dangerous virus have prompted an Army investigation into the disappearance from a lab in Maryland. Fort Detrick is the home of the Army’s top biological research facility. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command agents have been visiting Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, to investigate the disappearance of the vials. Christopher Grey, spokesman for the command, said this latest investigation has found “no evidence of criminal activity.” The vials contained samples of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a virus that sickens horses and can be spread to humans by mosquitoes. In 97 percent of cases, humans with the virus suffer flu-like symptoms, but it can be deadly in about 1 out of 100 cases, according to Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. There is an effective vaccine for the disease and there hasn’t been an outbreak in the United States since 1971.