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By Nicole Pelligrino, Contributing Reporter

Eduardo Hage, 2006, Photo by Agencia FAPESP
Eduardo Hage, 2006, photo by Agencia FAPESP.

RIO DE JANEIRO – As Swine flu continues to steal headlines worldwide; Brazilian officials are taking increased precautions domestically. As of last weekend, there were fourteen new suspected cases of Swine flu in the country, none of which have been confirmed. Altogether, 41 individuals have been evaluated in Brazil, none of whom tested positive for the flu. Cases have been reported in 17 countries, surpassing 800 confirmed cases of Swine flu worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Brazil was taking a relatively pragmatic approach to the illness; arriving travelers who presented symptoms were temporarily quarantined, tested and subsequently released when all tests returned negative. Brazil’s approach to Swine flu was considerably less rigid than recent extreme measures undertaken by other nations, but Eduardo Hage, director of the Epidemiological Monitoring department of the Ministry of Health noted that until last Friday, May 1, only those arriving passengers presenting symptoms would be tested for the illness. Now any passengers arriving from afflicted areas can be tested for the virus.

China has undertaken radical, if not discriminatory measures in an effort to curb the spread of the illness, according to Mexican Officials. Mexico’s ambassador to Beijing, Jorge Guajardo stated, “In many cases we have gotten reports that they were being quarantined for the sole fact that they had a Mexican passport, whether or not they came from Mexico, whether or not they had been in Mexico, whether or not they had been in contact with someone else from Mexico.”

Chinese officials claim to be following protocol in an effort to avoid a repeat of the SARS and Avian flu outbreaks. As for the Swine flu, China has reported only a single case of the virus (a 25-year-old Mexican man arriving from Mexico City), and no deaths.

Japan, too, detained an American Airlines flight returning from Los Angeles to Tokyo after it was reported that a Japanese female passenger was presenting flu-like symptoms. After testing, she was not found to be carrying the H1N1 Swine flu strain. No cases have been reported in Japan.

The United States reported its first and only death from the illness last week (a two-year-old Mexican child in Texas with preexisting medical conditions). Even so, health officials are beginning to change their tune, finding that the virus may not be as dangerous as previously suspected. In New York City, which has reported the highest number of cases, officials claim that the virus has not spread outside of some isolated schools.

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has called the illness “a minor annoyance,” while one flu expert asserted that the virus is probably no more dangerous than the seasonal flu. CDC flu chief Nancy Cox notes that “we do not see the markers for virulence that were seen in the 1918 virus.”

As for Mexico itself, “Each day there are fewer serious cases and the mortality has been decreasing,” claimed health minister, José Angel Córdova, at a news conference in Mexico City.

Though Swine flu was feared to be the next deadly pandemic, fortunately, so far, the alarm provoked by this outbreak would appear to far exceed the actual threat.

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