Swine flu outbreaks in Mexico and North America

The authorities in Mexico, the USA and Canada have confirmed human infections with a new strain of influenza, swine flu A/H1N1. This virus has the potential to cause a global outbreak of flu (pandemic). Suspected cases are also being investigated in France, Spain, Israel and New Zealand. 1,400 cases of a severe respiratory illness have been reported in Mexico City. Other affected areas include San Luis Potosi, Mexicali and Oxaca and at least 90 people have died across Mexico. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported suspected cases in 19 of Mexico’s 32 states. Laboratories in the US and Canada confirm that 20 of the Mexican cases had swine flu H1N1. It is uncertain how many of the other cases are attributable to this new strain of influenza. School and university classes in Mexico City have been suspended. Four people in Nova Scotia, Canada, have confirmed H1N1swine flu infections and two in British Columbia (on the other side of Canada) may also be infected. All suffered only a mild illness, and none required hospital treatment.  In the USA, 20 people have been infected in 5 states: California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas. Most of these suffered only minor illness and none were fatal, but two cases required hospital treatment.

Most of the cases are in adults aged 25-44 years. A few have occurred in health care workers. Symptoms are initially like flu, with fever, cough, headache and muscle pains. Severe cases progressed rapidly within 5 days.

Review your need for non-essential travel to Mexico City and other affected areas in Mexico. At present, there are no restrictions on movement, but you should be aware that if governments impose travel restrictions, you may find it difficult to get into or out of the affected area/country.

If you have not had an annual flu vaccination, you should consider having one to prevent ordinary seasonal flu, particularly if you are in what is called a “high-risk” group. In addition, to prevent respiratory infections (including flu) and to avoid spreading illness, you should:

  • Maintain good personal hygiene.
  • Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a mask or a tissue.
  • Avoid obviously sick people.
  • Stay at home if you are unwell, and seek medical attention if you develop flu-like symptoms.
  • Obtain prompt medical attention for young children with fever or influenza-like symptoms.
  • If you do travel to an affected area, seek medical attention if you develop symptoms and tell the doctor that you have recently been in an area that has reported swine flu.

We are monitoring the situation and will update this note as more information becomes available.

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