Panama on swine flu alert
PANAMA. Countries planned quarantines, tightened rules on pork imports and tested airline passengers for fevers as global health offici...
PANAMA. Countries planned quarantines, tightened rules on pork imports and tested airline passengers for fevers as global health officials tried Sunday to battle a deadly strain of swine flu that has killed at least 86 people from severe pneumonia in Mexico, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Nations from New Zealand to Canada reported new suspected cases. Panama is on alert.
The WHO Director General, Margaret Chan called the outbreak a public health emergency of "pandemic potential" because the virus can pass from human to human.
Her agency urged governments to step up surveillance of suspicious outbreaks, and many countries, including Panama, have responded the call.
"Countries are encouraged to do anything that they feel would be a precautionary measure," WHO spokeswoman Aphaluck Bhatiasevi said. "All countries need to enhance their monitoring.”
United States health officials confirmed 20 cases of the disease, and Canada became the third country to confirm human cases of swine flu Sunday, with four mild cases in the east coast province of Nova Scotia.
New Zealand, France, Israel, and Spain also reported cases of possible infection, all coming from recent visitors to Mexico.
No evidence of any cases has so far appeared in Panama. However, given the ease of transmission, the Health Ministry (MINSA) is taking necessary precautions.
MINSA ordered surveillance at ports of entry (airports, seaports, and borders), with officials on the lookout for passengers, especially coming from North-America, showing flu-like symptoms. There have been no talks of possible quarantines yet.
Panama’s Health Ministry (MINSA) has joined other Central American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua in declaring a state of alert. Given the country’s geographical location, which makes it a transit hub on the continent, some fear infected people could reach any one of our ports.
The national head of Epidemology from the Health Minister, Gladys Guerrero, said the international situation is being monitored, and increased measures will be placed if need be.
An emergency meeting on the outbreak will be held today. Regional health centers staff will also be briefed today.
In the meantime, doctors and dentists were cautioned to be on the lookout for possible cases of infection, asked to sample nasal and throat secretions in suspicious cases to identify potential respiratory viruses.
And health facilities were on alert for a potential increase in demand for care for acute respiratory diseases.
Panama’s Health Ministry also recommended that the Minister of Agricultural Development intensify vigilance of pigs, poultry and cattle, among other measures.
As for import bans, Panama does not import pigs from Mexico.
Governments including China, Russia and Taiwan began planning to put anyone with symptoms of the deadly virus under quarantine.
Others were increasing their screening of pigs and pork imports from the Americas or banning them outright despite health officials' reassurances that it was safe to eat thoroughly cooked pork.
Some nations, including South Korea and Italy, issued travel warnings for Mexico, advising citizens to postpone travel to affected areas.
Russia banned the import of meat products from Mexico, California, Texans and Kansas. South Korea said it would increase the number of its influenza virus checks on pork products from Mexico and the US.
Meanwhile, drugmakers claim they could supply millions of doses of medicine should the World Health Organization request them.
Roche Holding AG's Tamiflu is expected to be in greatest demand should swine flu develop into a pandemic.
Panama stocked up on Tamiflu tablets (buying close to 800,000 doses) as a precaution for a possible Avian flu epidemic (which never reached the country) in recent years.