Israeli in hospital amid swine flu fears

Authorities checking man who returned from Mexico for deadly strain; US declares public emergency.

swine flu mexico cop 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
swine flu mexico cop 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
A 26-year-old man from the Netanya area who on Friday returned home from Mexico and felt unwell, was hospitalized over the weekend after he heard from friends about the outbreak of swine flu there and in the US. The man, named Tomer, works in a production firm and his job takes him to Mexico twice a month for a week-long stay. He was stationed in Juarez, his girlfriend told Channel 2, but would fly to and from Israel through the airport in Mexico City. When he returned last Friday he was not feeling well and after hearing the news of the outbreak in Mexico he decided to check himself into a hospital, his girlfriend said, adding that he was suffering regular flu symptoms, such as fever, a sore throat and shivers. He was still in isolation at Netanya's Laniado Medical Center on Sunday as doctors and the Health Ministry waited for results of the tests that will determine whether he was infected during his trip with the H1N1 influenza virus. Laniado staffers who were treating him were equipped with special protective gear. At least 81 people have died from severe pneumonia caused by the flu-like illness in Mexico, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Over 1,300 were diagnosed with it. There were also cases reported in California, Texas and the New York City borough of Queens, where eight girls from the St. Francis Preparatory School were reported infected. The girls, who went to Cancun on a spring break trip two weeks ago, all had mild cases and none had to be hospitalized. There have been no deaths reported among the US victims. Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman convened ministry officials on Sunday, but the ministry prohibited hospitals and health funds from answering journalists' questions so as not to produce conflicting statements or spread panic. On previous occasions, foreign reports of avian flu and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) aroused deep public concern, but no Israelis were affected. Meanwhile, some two dozen Israelis who returned from Mexico, where the outbreak began, were examined on Sunday. Only the man in Laniado had a fever. The initial symptoms of swine flu are fever, cough, runny nose and respiratory difficulties. The ministry said on Saturday night that doctors, health funds and hospitals should pay special attention to patients - especially those who have returned from Mexico - who suffer from acute respiratory illnesses, have a temperature higher than 38 degrees Celsius and complain of coughing, sore throats aches or shortness of breath. These are similar to symptoms of ordinary influenza, but the peak of the flu season is behind us. Symptoms of swine flu appear within a week of infection. The virus is usually contracted through direct contact with pigs, but human-to-human transmission is possible. There is no vaccine against swine flu, though health authorities in the US are checking to see whether annual regular flu shots offer any protection against the swine flu variety. A drug called Tamiflu, which the Health Ministry has stored away in what it says are "sufficient quantities," relieves complications of various types of influenza, including swine flu. Magen David Adom, which collects blood, decided Sunday not to accept blood donations from people who during the last week stayed in areas where swine flu has appeared, including Mexico, California, Texas and Queens, New York. MDA director-general Eli Bin instructed staffers to review instructions for the use of the new "incubator stretcher" meant for emergency transfer of infectious patients from one place to another. With the ministry's help, MDA recently purchased 12 units at the cost of $10,000 apiece. The stretcher is completely insulated to prevent medical staffers from being infected by patients. Covered tightly in plastic, the stretcher has an air-filtration system that creates pressure to prevent microbes from exiting the device. The patient is able to inhale clean air, while his exhaled air is cleansed by the filter. Although it is sealed, there are special openings to allow insertion of electrocardiogram cables and drugs and even to perform resuscitation via pockets. WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan convened a meeting of the organization's emergency committee of international experts over the weekend to assess the situation and advise her on appropriate responses. After reviewing available data on the current situation, committee members said they had identified a number of gaps in knowledge about the clinical features, epidemiology and virology of reported cases and the appropriate responses. However, the committee nevertheless agreed that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. Chan urged all countries to "intensify surveillance" for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia, but stopped short of recommending specific measures to halt the disease beyond urging governments to step up their surveillance of suspicious outbreaks. The WHO's pandemic-alert level is currently at Phase 3. The organization said the level could be raised to phase 4 if the virus shows sustained ability to pass from human to human. Phase 5 would be reached if the virus is found in at least two countries in the same region, while Phase 6 would indicate a full-scale global pandemic. Around the world, countries planned quarantines, tightened rules on pork imports and tested airline passengers for fevers. Nations from New Zealand to France reported new suspected cases and some warned citizens against travel to North America, while the WHO was considering whether to issue non-binding recommendations on travel and trade restrictions, and even border closures. Mexico closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters in a bid to contain the outbreak. Tokyo's Narita Airport installed a device to test the temperatures of passengers arriving from Mexico. AP contributed to this report.