India and South Africa Suffer First Swine Flu Deaths

by VR Sreeraman on August 4, 2009 at 12:30 PM

 India and South Africa Suffer First Swine Flu Deaths
AIDS-ravaged South Africa on Monday announced its first swine flu victim as Indian media reported a first death on the sub-continent and Russia warned football fans not to travel to Wales.

As the pandemic sows ever-deeper fears for public health across more territories, South African health authorities said an otherwise healthy student had succumbed after contracting the A(H1N1) virus.

Ruan Muller, a 22-year-old student at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town, becomes the first fatality due to swine flu in sub-Saharan Africa.

Western Cape health minister Theuns Botha said the man had no underlying health problems.

"He died on the 28th (of July), but there had to be some testing done to ensure the cause of death. It was the A(H1N1) influenza," said Fidel Hadebe, spokesman for the department of health.

With the world's highest number of HIV/AIDS-affected people at nearly 19 percent of a 49 million population, South Africa is considered particularly at risk given that those with compromised immunity are more likely to fall prey to the disease.

A large proportion of nearly 1,000 recorded deaths around the world since the virus was first identified in Mexico in April have involved people with underlying medical conditions.

South Africa's swine flu caseload has increased fourfold since the country's first case was reported on June 14. The government has said its stockpile of branded Tamiflu treatment will only be used for the seriously ill, but that schools may also be closed on a case-by-case basis.

The death of a 14-year-old girl in the western Indian city of Pune, attributed to the A(H1N1) influenza virus according to media reports, came six days after the teenager was admitted to a private hospital on July 27.

No one at the state or city health department was immediately available to comment when contacted by AFP but the domestic Press Trust of India news agency said the student had been given anti-viral drugs.

She failed to respond to treatment and died on Monday evening after suffering multiple organ failure, an unnamed senior health ministry official was quoted as saying.

Precautionary measures there include setting up quarantine centres and a specially-designated hospital with up to 1,000 beds to treat confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, the Russian state health agency warned the country's football fans to stay away from the national team's World Cup qualifying tie with Wales in Cardiff next month.

"This would be an extremely unnecessary and inappropriate undertaking at a time of a flu epidemic," the head of Russia's state health agency Gennady Onishchenko said, according to local news agencies.

Onishchenko expressed fear that "the expressions of emotion on the part of football fans involving intense shouting" could lead to the airborne transmission of the flu virus.

The two sides are due to play on September 9.

Russia has to-date been relatively spared by the swine flu pandemic, with just 55 confirmed cases in the country.

Experts remain puzzled why different countries have not always been whacked to the same degree, with the likes of England and Scotland both heavily hit proportionately, yet neighbouring France's tally appearing light by comparison.

Some have argued that gargantuan sums being spent by rich economies on a disease that is no more lethal than seasonal flu are grotesquely disproportionate when thousands die each day of diseases which receive less media coverage.

Source: AFP

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