Flu fears cut kid’s parties in city

  • 18/05/2009 02:00
  • 18/05/2009 02:00
PANAMA. The spread of the A/H1N1 virus is affecting the social fiber of the country. Many people are too scared to have social gatheri...

PANAMA. The spread of the A/H1N1 virus is affecting the social fiber of the country. Many people are too scared to have social gatherings. However, the “must-party” crowd are not being deterred and last weekend nightclubs, restaurants and bars were full of revelers looking for a good time, without giving a second thought to the swine flu.

Parents of small children are being more cautious and many birthday parties in the areas of Punta Pacifica, San Francisco Paitilla and Costa del Este have been cancelled as a precaution, because the virus appears to be affecting the very young.

So far there have been 54 confirmed cases of A/H1N1 flu and 160 suspected cases have been tested. According to the Ministry of Health 70 percent of the people infected contracted the illness after having contract with somebody with the disease.

The schools that were closed due to the appearance of the virus in the premises should be opened this week, but the Ministry of Health has not made any decision so far.

It appears that the majority of the cases happened in the capital city with only one case in the interior.

Last week the Health Minister, Rosario Turner ordered the baseball game between Panama West and Los Santos to be played in on an empty stadium much to dismay of the fans.

Workers in health centers, pharmacies, airports and supermarkets are wearing masks as a precaution.

In the International Tocumen Airport every passenger has been closely scrutinized by personnel of the Ministry of Health with infrared cameras that measure the body temperature.

Meanwhile, health experts are looking very closely at the spread of swine flu among people in Spain, Britain and Japan said a WHO official on Sunday as Japan reported a one-day explosion of over 70 new cases, mostly among teenagers.

The swine flu epidemic is already expected to dominate the World Health Organization's annual meeting, a five-day event that begins Monday in Geneva and involves health officials from the agency's 193 member states.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan will reveal experts' recommendations on the production of a swine flu vaccine sometime at the meeting. Pharmaceutical companies are ready to begin production, but many decisions have to be made first — such as how much vaccine to make, how it should be distributed and who should get it.

Some experts say there's no question that a swine flu vaccine must be produced but WHO needs to discuss the issue with its members.

As of Sunday, the swine flu virus — which WHO calls the A (H1N1) virus — has sickened at least 8,480 people in 40 countries, killing 75 of them, mostly in Mexico.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in-country transmission rates were a key factor in whether the global body decides to increase its pandemic alert level. Right now, the world is at phase 5 — out of a possible 6 — meaning that a global outbreak is "imminent." "We already know about the UK and Spain, that they have a relatively high number of cases compared to other European countries, so by simple virtue of the fact that they have more cases they need to be kept an eye on," Hartl said in an interview with AP Television News. "There seems to have been activity in the last few days in Japan so we need to watch that too," he said.

Spain and Britain have had the highest numbers of cases in Europe, reporting 103 and 101 cases respectively. Britain announced 14 new cases on Sunday — with 11 of those being transmitted in-country — people who had not traveled to Mexico or the United States but became infected from others who had the virus.

A pandemic could be triggered if the virus starts to be transmitted from person to person on a large scale outside the Americas.

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