By Sarah Coursey, Editor
RIO DE JANEIRO – Swine flu has taken its first Brazilian victim to the grave. The death was confirmed by Brazil’s Minister of Health, José Gomes Temporão, on June 28th. The man, 29 years old and ‘gaúcho’ (native of Rio Grande do Sul), contracted the illness in Argentina and died of respiratory complications upon his return to Brazil.
The latest figures on swine flu infection following the tragic death of the young Brazilian are on the rise. The virus known to the medical community as Influenza A (H1N1), or in colloquial parlance as the swine flu, continues to gather momentum across the country.
The Health Ministry confirmed fourteen new cases of swine flu this week alone. One of these cases was found in Rio de Janeiro, bringing the city’s total number of infected to five. Since the epidemic hit the country, a total of 694 people have been infected with the virus. According to the Ministry, a large percentage of these patients are in treatment or recovery.
The number of confirmed cases is expected to rise even further in the next few days. Already the number of those suspected to have the virus is 1,049, as of June 30th. Until patients are meticulously tested to verify their condition, the Health Ministry will not release new figures. One positive outlook of this fear-inducing epidemic is that nearly 62% of confirmed cases have contracted the virus outside of the country. For those who can avoid foreign travel, the risk of infection is greatly reduced. The government has in turn issued warnings on visits to high-risk countries.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, fatigue and an exceptionally strong cough. Due to its contagious nature, confirmed patients are placed in isolated conditions while they are being treated. The incubation period of swine flue is seven days, and for this reason immediate family members of the infected receive authorization to be temporarily dismissed from school or work.
The Secretary of Health, Eugênio Barros, has taken the possible contagion of swine flu quite seriously. When a confirmed case comes into his office involving foreign travel, a thorough check of flight passengers is undergone. Specifically, those seated in rows near the infected person are contacted to inquire about possible virus symptoms.
Barros has urged those who think they may be carrying the illness to inform health professionals immediately. According to him, many resist the idea of remaining isolated, or deny that their symptoms could in fact match those of swine flu.
An important advance in the treatment of the virus is the authorization for the emergency use of oseltamivir phosphate. The Ministry of Health previously gave the drug to patients 48 hours after the appearance of symptoms. The new mandate allows it to be administered earlier, within the first 48 hours of suspected infection.
In addition, as a preventive measure those with more sensitive immune systems that show symptoms will be immediately treated with the drug. This list includes children under two years old, the elderly and those suffering from AIDS, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung, heart and kidney conditions.
The Ministry of Health has stocked up on the drug, with 10,000 dosages already on hand and ready to be shipped to hospitals around the country if needed. Brazil’s directive comes after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services passed a similar authorization on April 26th of this year.