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Australia Defends Flu Steps As Global Cases Surge

by VR Sreeraman on  May 24, 2009 at 10:28 AM General Health News   - G J E 4
Australia on Saturday defended its escalation of swine flu protection measures as global health chiefs said a vaccine could be ready as early as June and worldwide cases continued to rise.
 Australia Defends Flu Steps As Global Cases Surge
Australia Defends Flu Steps As Global Cases Surge
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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was inconvenient but necessary to ramp up Australia's pandemic threat response as the country reported its 14th confirmed infection.

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Canberra lifted its alert level to a containment phase on Friday, after recording the country's first case of human-to-human transmission of the A(H1N1) virus in a 10-year-old girl who contracted the virus from a classmate who had fallen ill after returning from the United States.

The new phase allows for the closure of schools and other public places and cancellation of major events, with three schools already shut following the confirmation of cases among students and further closures likely.

Rudd acknowledged the move would inconvenience families, but said it was important to take decisive action.

"Every effort by our public health authorities has been taken to avoid deaths at home," Rudd told reporters.

"We will take whatever actions are necessary to underpin the public health of the nation."

With the exception of a 51-year-old Mexican tourist, all Australia's swine flu cases are younger than 28, and more than half are school-aged children.

Australia's chief medical officer Jim Bishop said on Friday it was vital the outbreak was brought under control before the country entered the southern hemisphere winter, traditionally flu season.

More than 11,100 cases and 86 deaths have been recorded worldwide since the outbreak of A(H1N1) influenza emerged in Mexico and the United States a month ago.

The world remains at flu alert level five, signalling an "imminent pandemic," as China, South Korea and Chile also reported new cases on Saturday, a day after Moscow recorded its first infection.

Although it continues to spread around the world, the new swine virus has a far lower fatality rate than the H5N1 avian flu that has sparked fears of a pandemic in recent years.

World Health Organisation head Margaret Chan however warned on Friday that poorer countries should be prepared for more severe cases.

"Countries especially in the developing world, where populations are most vulnerable, should prepare to see more than the present small number of severe cases," she said.

But in some good news, the WHO said the first vaccine against the A(H1N1) virus could be ready by the end of next month.

"We're hopeful that by the end of June, by the beginning of July, this will be the time that commercial companies will be in a position of being able to make a vaccine," said WHO interim assistant director general Keiji Fukuda.

But Fukuda added the daily count of the rising number of cases around the world was becoming irrelevant.

"The numbers themselves have become a little bit more irrelevant," Fukuda said. "They will increasingly not reflect what's going on.

"Countries such as the United States are moving away from large-scale testing of cases," he said.

Fukuda added though that experts were still mulling whether to give the go-ahead for production as this may reduce or halt the manufacture of vaccines for seasonal flu.

A study released on Friday said the various A(H1N1) swine flu strains spreading across the globe react to antibodies in the same way, boosting the chances of a common vaccine for all of them.

The study, published in the US journal Science, says the virus has probably been circulating unnoticed among pigs for some time, and calls for more careful monitoring of swine populations.

It confirms the new pathogen originated in pigs, and is a mix of a previously known virus containing avian, swine and human genetic elements, with two other genes from Eurasian swine viruses never before detected outside Asia.

Understanding its origins could help scientists prevent the pathogen from emerging in a new and potentially more virulent form, the researchers said.

Source: AFP
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