Is swine flu a.k.a. influenza A H1N1 something to be sneezed at? Maybe, maybe not. The jury — led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) —is still out. WHO director of global alert and response Mike Ryan said on Saturday the disease's "severity is not completely established".
But the world is taking no chances. Austria has stockpiled 8 million protective masks; Turkey has installed thermal imaging cameras in its main airports to scan passengers for fever; and Egypt is killing off its entire population of pigs, numbering 250,000.
In India, an additional 7 million capsules of flu drug oseltamivir are being procured. “Yesterday, the health ministry dispatched 2.45 lakh oseltamivir capsules, 17,500 protective equipment and 1.3 lakh surgical masks to regional health centres to cut lead time in case of an outbreak,” said Vineet Chawdhry, joint secretary, Ministry of Health.
Health screening of passengers from countries that have reported confirmed cases is being done in 18 international airports.
All six people in the country who've been tested for the disease so far have tested negative.
Samples from a seventh suspected case, of a 25-year-old engineer who arrived in Hyderabad from San Francisco on Saturday, are being tested at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Delhi. Four of them had cold and fever while two reported no symptoms but were tested as they were in the same house as a swine flu suspect.
The first confirmed case in Asia was reported from Hong Kong on Friday; staff in apartment towers in Beijing began disinfecting lifts an extra four times a day soon after. By Saturday, when China suspended flights from Mexico, the lifts were still being disinfected every hour.
In Hong Kong, the Metro Park hotel, with 300 staff and guests, is under quarantine after a 25-year-old Mexican who came via Shanghai became Hong Kong’s first confirmed case of the virus. In Beijing, 15 of his co-passengers are quarantined in a hospital though they have no symptoms. The flight crew is quarantined in Shanghai. A search is on for two taxi drivers and all co-passengers seated near the Mexican national.
The disease has spread to 15 countries and infected 615 people. It appears to be petering out in Mexico, where lab tests confirmed fewer people died than believed earlier, prompting it to cut its toll from 176 to 101.