40 swine flu cases in US; agents checking borders

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared Monday that spreading swine flu infections were a concern but “not a cause for alarm,” while customs agents began checking people coming into the United States by land and air. The World Health Organization said there were 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. but no deaths.

Countries across the globe increased their vigilance amid increasing worries about a worldwide pandemic. Obama told a gathering of scientists that his administration’s Department of Health and Human Services “has 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.”

The acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Richard Besser, said that Americans should be prepared for the problem to become more severe, and that it could involve “possibly deaths.”

The quickening pace of developments in the United States in response to some 1,600 swine flu infections in neighboring Mexico — and reports of over 100 deaths — was accompanied by a host of varying responses around the world. The European Union advised against nonessential travel to the U.S. and Mexico, while China, Taiwan and Russia considered quarantines and several Asian countries scrutinized visitors arriving at their airports.

U.S. customs officials began checking people entering U.S. territory. Officers at airports, seaports and border crossings were watching for signs of illness, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.

The borders are open,” Easterling added. He said officials were “just taking a second look at folks who may be displaying a symptom of illness.”

If a traveler says something about not feeling well, the person will be questioned about symptoms and, if necessary, referred to a CDC official for additional screening, Easterling said. The customs officials were wearing personal protective gear, such as gloves and masks, he said.

The CDC can send someone to the hospital if they suspect a case, but no one is being refused entry. Also, the CDC is readying “yellow cards” with disease information for travelers, in case they later experience symptoms.The border monitoring resembles that done during the SARS epidemic earlier in the decade.

Multiple airlines, including American, United, Continental, US Airways, Mexicana and Air Canada, said they were waiving usual penalties for changing reservations for anyone traveling to, from, or through Mexico, but had not canceled flights.

The CDC’s Besser said that while the U.S. hasn’t advised against travel to Mexico, it has urged people to take precautions, such as frequent hand-washing while there.

He also said he did not believe that the EU’s inclusion of the U.S. in its travel warnings was warranted “at this point.”

A private school in South Carolina was closed Monday because of fears that young people who recently returned from Mexico might have been infected.

“We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States,” Obama said. “I’m getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take.”

“This is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it’s not a cause for alarm,” he said.

World stock markets fell as investors worried that the outbreak could derail economic recovery. Wall Street, too, dipped in morning trading but stocks regained their footing and posted modest gains by midday.

The U.S. declared a national health emergency in the midst of uncertainty about whether the mounting sick count meant new infections were increasing or health officials had simply missed something that had been simmering for weeks or months. The declaration allowed Washington to ship roughly 12 million doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile to states in case they are needed.

Besser said he was not reassured by the fact that so far in the U.S., no one had died from the disease.

“From what we understand in Mexico, I think people need to be ready for the idea that we could see more severe cases in this country and possibly deaths,” he said. “That’s something people have to be ready for and we’re looking for that. So far, thankfully, we haven’t seen that. But we’re very concerned and that’s why we’re taking very aggressive measures.”

Meanwhile, officials of Newberry Academy in South Carolina said Monday that seniors from the school were in Mexico earlier this month and some had flu-like symptoms when they returned.

State Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley said test results on the students could come back as early as Monday afternoon. The agency has stepped up efforts to investigate all flu cases in South Carolina. There have been no confirmed swine flu cases in the state.

A New York City school where eight cases were confirmed will be closed Monday and Tuesday, and 14 schools in Texas, including a high school where two cases were confirmed, will be closed for at least the next week. Some schools in California and Ohio also were closing after students were found or suspected to have the flu.

In Mexico, the outbreak’s center, soldiers handed out 6 million face masks to help stop the spread of the virus that is suspected in up to 103 deaths. Most other countries are reporting only mild cases so far, with most of the sick already recovering.

Spain reported its first confirmed swine flu case on Monday and said another 17 people were suspected of having the disease. The European Union health commissioner advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico and the United States. Also, three New Zealanders recently returned from Mexico are suspected of having it.

“It was acquired in Mexico, brought home and spread,” Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, Dr. Robert Strang, said of Canada’s first confirmed cases.


Associated Press

We reported below yesterday:
Swine Influenza (swine flu) caused by type A influenza, regularly leads to influenza outbreaks among pigs.
In USA Napolitano Says,
a public health emergency has been declared in the U.S. to free up resources to deal with the swine flu, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said at a White House briefing today.

No official travel advisories have been issued by the U.S. State Department in relation to the disease, Napolitano said. A follow-on flu outbreak is possible in several months, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vincent Del Giudice in Washington at vdelgiudice@bloomberg.net

Click for Updates on deadly flu
Spain also Reported
“Panic spread across Mexico City, where schools were closed and church services cancelled in an attempt to contain the virus.”
The report states,
“Educators in America are advising worried patients to buy painters’ masks as a precaution against the global outbreak of swine flu that appears to have spread from Mexico to the United States, New Zealand and possibly Europe.

With the worldwide death toll standing at about 81 and with about 1,300 people infected, authorities across the globe are torn between the desire to slow down a potential flu pandemic and the need to avoid bringing major cities on every continent to an economic standstill.

As of today, the US was still allowing people to cross the border from Mexico – where it is thought the swine flu emerged last week – although customs officials at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings were given protective masks. It is thought that eight people in US border towns have gone down with swine flu, and tonight Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that a further eight cases have been confirmed among students in New York.

There have been no deaths north of the Mexican border, however, and as of today the anti-viral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza were readily available from pharmacies in major cities. Several of those affected in the US have made full recoveries.

A spokesman for the White House said yesterday that President Obama’s health had not been endangered by his trip to Mexico City last week, in spite of reports in the Mexican press that Felipe Solis, an archaeologist who met the US leader, died soon after from “flu-like symptoms”.

Earlier today the European Commission said that there were no known cases in Europe, but within hours three suspected cases were being investigated in Spain, which has a large Mexican émigré population, in the cities of Bilbao, Valencia and Albacete. All three sufferers returned recently from Mexico. Spanish authorities are contacting passengers who were on the same flights.

Two suspected cases have been also been reported in southern France.

A suspected British case, a member of a British Airways cabin crew who started to experience flu-like symptoms on a flight from Mexico to Heathrow, was given the all-clear this morning.

However, ten teenagers from New Zealand who returned home from Mexico yesterday are thought to be suffering from the disease. None is seriously ill, the country’s Health Minister said.

One of the greatest concerns over the new strain of flu is that it is seems to target young, healthy adults – the same group affected by the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which killed up to 100 million people.

Medical experts will meet on Tuesday to advise the World Health Organisation (WHO) on whether to raise the current pandemic alert level.

Also Demfromct at Dailykos reported this
Swine flu news continues to catch people’s attention. There are suspect cases in Israel, NZ (confirmed), Spain and France that were airline travelers from Mexico (KS and NYC has similar cases, both now confirmed.) The news hounds at Flu Wiki have all the up-to-date news. Official information from CDC is here (20 confirmed cases in 5 states – CA, TX, OH, NY, KS.) There will be a CDC media briefing today preceded by a just-concluded WH briefing with the “team” (DHS and CDC).


A 26-year-old Israeli man has been hospitalised after returning from a trip to Mexico on suspicion of contacting swine flu, hospital officials told AFP on Sunday.

The man checked into the Laniado hospital in the coastal city of Netanya with flu-like symptoms and doctors were trying to determine whether he had contracted the potentially fatal flu strain, they said.

“He came back from Mexico on Friday night and was hospitalised on Saturday night,” a hospital spokeswoman told AFP. “He is running a high fever.”

It marks the first suspected case of swine flu reported in Israel and the Middle East.

The new flu epidemic has killed up to 81 people in Mexico, with health officials fearing it could reach “pandemic” proportions and spread worldwide.