Google news - April 29 (Bloomberg) -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said hundreds of students in his city are sick with suspected cases of swine flu, an indication the disease may be taking root in countries outside Mexico.
President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion in new funding to brace for an outbreak, a White House spokesman said. New York accounts for 45 of the 65 confirmed U.S. cases in six states. New Zealand today confirmed 14 people have swine flu in Auckland city, the first cases in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mexico, where the virus toll is highest, said 159 people may have died from the malady, with seven of those verified by laboratory tests. Seven countries have confirmed swine flu, including the U.K., Canada, Israel, New Zealand and Spain, laying the seeds for a possible global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. Officials in Bavaria said Germany confirmed its first case today.
“The zillion-dollar question is how long will this transmission activity last and what will be the evolving picture of disease severity,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “If transmission continues and severe illness is documented, WHO will have to raise its pandemic alert level further.”
The WHO, a United Nations agency based in Geneva, said it’s watching New York to see whether the virus has become rooted in a second country, a finding that would boost the level of the pandemic alert system.
The U.S. can expect hospitalizations and deaths, and businesses and schools should plan for a pandemic, Richard Besser, acting head of the Atlanta-based CDC, said yesterday.
New York, America’s largest city, has about 45 confirmed cases, most originating at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, Bloomberg said yesterday. At P.S. 177, a public school for autistic children, 82 students have called in sick and six students are being tested at Ascension school in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, , he said. Most family and staff suspected of having the flu haven’t been tested, the mayor said.
Two other people, a woman in Brooklyn and a boy in the Bronx, were hospitalized with suspected cases associated with travel to Mexico, Bloomberg said. Five patients with confirmed swine flu cases have been hospitalized in the U.S., Besser said.
WHO raised its global pandemic alert this week, saying the disease is no longer containable and health authorities need to prepare for outbreaks. It’s the first time the warning has been raised to a 4 since the six-step system was adopted in 2005. It had been at 3 since 2007, when it was elevated for an outbreak of avian flu.
A pandemic, rated 6 on WHO’s alert system, is an unexpected outbreak of a new contagious disease that spreads from person to person across borders. In such cases, almost no one has natural immunity.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama requested more money yesterday to help build stockpiles of anti- viral drugs, work on vaccines and coordinate the U.S. response with other governments.
The money is meant “to ensure we have the resources available” at federal, state and local levels to deal with any wider spread of the virus, Gibbs said.
The biggest concern is whether the virus is establishing itself outside Mexico, Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director- general for health security and environment, said on a conference call yesterday with reporters.
WHO is tracking the speed and ferocity of the New York- based transmissions with U.S. and state health officials to determine how the flu may spread in the future, Fukuda said.
“There is definitely the possibility that this virus can establish that kind of community-wide outbreak capacity in multiple countries,” Fukuda said. “It’s a very serious possibility, but it’s still too early to say that it’s inevitable.”
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency to help the most populous U.S. state with 37 million people prepare for an outbreak. Health officials said yesterday they had confirmed an 11th case, though the added instance wasn’t reflected in the CDC data. The state also has seven more “probable” cases, said Bonnie Sorensen, chief deputy director of the California Department of Public Health.
Schwarzenegger ordered state agencies to use whatever government personnel, equipment and facilities needed to help the health department. He also authorized the agency, along with the state’s Emergency Medical Services Authority, to enter contracts with private companies without competitive bids.
The outbreak in Mexico City prompted the local government yesterday to order all 35,000 restaurants shut.
U.S. officials recommended that nonessential travel to Mexico be avoided and the European Union told travelers to avoid outbreak areas. Malaysia today asked the WHO to ban outbound travel from Mexico.
Japan suspended visa-free entry for Mexican nationals, countries including Australia, Singapore and South Korea are screening air passengers, and Taiwan advised against visiting Mexico.
Australia is testing 90 people for swine flu, and authorities are searching for 15 people who were on a plane from Mexico two days ago, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said.
South Korea will suspend imports of live hogs from North America starting today, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said. Indonesia said April 27 it will destroy all imported pork and swine products and fumigate agricultural goods bought from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico as a precaution.
China, the world’s top pork consumer, banned imports of swine products from Mexico and parts of the U.S.
The WHO isn’t recommending travel restrictions and has said people can’t get swine flu from eating properly handled pork.
“We’re in a pre-pandemic phase and it’s going to be hard to know until we’re much further along what this is going to progress to,” Besser said in an interview.
Scientists are trying to determine why swine flu, a respiratory disease of pigs caused by a type-A influenza virus, has been more severe in Mexico. The disease results in symptoms similar to those of seasonal influenza, such as fever, lethargy and coughing, and may also cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.
“In terms of defining a pandemic, there is no requirement that it cause severe disease,” said Arnold Monto, a scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “It doesn’t have to be killing millions. The virus may be bad in terms of the likelihood of getting infected, but not necessarily in terms of severity.”
The Mexican government requested that bars, movie theaters and churches close in Mexico City. It also extended its school closure to May 6 and may shut down more activities.
The World Bank, in a worst-case scenario published in October, said a flu pandemic that’s similar in scope to the 1918 outbreak known as the Spanish flu could kill 71 million people worldwide and push the economy into a “major global recession” costing more than $3 trillion.
Production of influenza vaccine for seasonal outbreaks, which U.S. health officials have said is ineffective against the new flu, should continue, Fukuda said. The WHO is working with companies to prepare for a swine-flu vaccine, and would help produce it if the outbreak becomes a pandemic, he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration signed emergency authorizations April 27 that will permit the CDC to use an unapproved lab test for swine flu and more dosing options than currently recommended for influenza treatments Tamiflu, sold by Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG, and Relenza, from London-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc.
If the world is facing a pandemic, “this is a nice, gentle pandemic,” said John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine in London. “Virulence seems low.”