By Nicole Pelligrino, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Though no cases of Swine flu have been reported in Brazil, the Ministry of Health of São Paulo State reported (O’Globo) that two individuals who had arrived in the city of São Paulo from Mexico were admitted to the hospital this past weekend and quarantined, showing symptoms of influenza. After tests for the virus came back negative, they were both released.
José Agenor Álvares da Silva, the director of Brazil’s Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária (Anivisa), has said that they are monitoring the illness’ spread abroad and testing arriving travelers who show symptoms, but maintains that Brazilians need not be afraid as it has not been detected within the country.
Symptoms of the flu are similar to that of most other strains of influenza and include fever, sore throat, coughing, chills, body aches, and for worse cases nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mortality rate is between 1% and 4%, though accurate statistics are difficult to calculate because they are not sure how many people have been infected (LA Times).
Swine flu has the global health community in full panic-mode. Thus far, 103 deaths have been reported in Mexico alone (well over 1,000 cases have been reported), but an increasing number of cases are being reported across the world. Nearly all of the cases involve travelers recently returned from trips to Mexico.
According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the virus is particularly dangerous because unlike other strains of influenza, it has proven to be grave especially for people aged 20-40, the point in life at which immunity to most viruses tends to be strongest. This mimics the pattern of the Spanish flu pandemic from 1918-19, which first claimed the lives of typically healthy young adults.
Swine flu is particularly disconcerting because its genetic makeup derives from human, swine and bird influenza strains, a never-before-seen amalgamation. The illness is transferred from swine to humans and can then easily pass from human to human; settling on surfaces and even becoming airborne.
The CDC has isolated the new virus, and created a “seed stock”, though it would probably take months to mass-produce any sort of vaccination. For now, Tamiflu and Relenza are being administered to patients to mitigate contagiousness and length of illness, but are only effective if administered within 72 hours of the initial symptoms.
Cases of Swine flu have been reported throughout the US, Canada, Scotland, Spain and New Zealand. These numbers continue to rise, though it should be noted that none of these incidences have been fatal, exemplifying the importance of early detection and speedy treatment.
Across the world, airports are taking extreme measures to monitor arriving passengers for flu-like symptoms. In Singapore, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia, thermal scanners are being utilized to check travelers for fevers as they did during the SARS and avian flu outbreaks.
European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou issued a travel advisory, suggesting that non-essential travel to affected areas of the US and Mexico be postponed until the epidemic is under control. The US has issued travel advisories to Mexico.
As the numbers continue to rise, it is important to remember that risk of contracting the illness is still low, and measures to avoid getting sick, including proper hygiene, frequent hand washing, and covering one’s mouth when sneezing and coughing should always be followed.