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(photo credit: AP)
The number of Israelis who have contracted swine flu rose to three over the weekend, but the first two have already been discharged from hospitals in excellent condition.
The third confirmed case is a 43-year-old man who recently returned from Mexico and was put into isolation at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center. His partner, who was abroad with him, has been isolated as well, just in case.
Sourasky Prof. Yehuda Carmeli said that the third swine flu patient was a good condition, adding that it was unlikely that the new flu strain will spread widely here.
Meanwhile, Prof. Dov Chernichovsky of Ben-Gurion University's health systems management department, who returned two weeks ago from a month-long stay in Mexico, told The Jerusalem Post that the main determinant of whether a Mexican became infected was whether or not he was poor and had little or no access to health services. About 30 percent of the population has little or no access to medical care, he said.
All those who have died of complications from swine flu in the current outbreak were Mexican, added Chernichovsky, who visits the Latin American country frequently. He is a member of a team writing a position paper for the Organization for Social Insurance of Latin American and the Caribbean proposing reform in the Mexican health system.
"There is Tamiflu [the drug for preventing serious flu complications] in Mexico, but it is not available for all. Preparations for coping with the new flu strain in Mexico is far below the level in Israel and Europe.
"The health system in Mexico is not hopeless but it is bad enough, and about 30 million of the more than 100 million residents cannot get decent care," said Chernichovsky, who flew back here five days before the swine flu story broke.
"In principle, swine flu is not more dangerous than other flus; the news is that it is a new strain. It doesn't mean a catastrophe," the BGU health economist said.
"My friends in Mexico who are close to the health system believe that the story has been exaggerated," he continued. "They say that in the US alone, tens of thousands of people died last year from influenza, but nobody said anything; more Mexicans died of regular flu than the new strain. The current crisis means that Mexico's health system must be reformed and improved."
In addition, many hundreds of elderly and immune-compromised Israelis die each winter of complications from ordinary flu, for which there are vaccinations that prevent or minimize the impact of the infectious disease.
Over the weekend, Israel offered assistance to the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt in the fight against swine flu. The Foreign Ministry made the central lab in Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer available to Palestinians, Egyptians, and Jordanians in the event that residents there are suspected of having been infected.
So far, no swine flu cases have been reported there, but Jordanian health authorities are examining all tourists coming through Israel.
Over the weekend, a 33-year-old woman and her eight-month-old baby who returned home on the flight from New York that had an Israeli passenger who later turned out to have swine flu were hospitalized at Sourasky with flu-like symptoms.
Plans to cancel classes at a Ra'anana school on Sunday were cancelled when a nine-year-old pupil who had flu-like symptoms after returning from Mexico was found to be healthy.