The latest news on swine flu

The latest update (# 26) from the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that as of the 12th of May 2009, 30 countries have officially reported 5,251 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection.

The tally now includes Mexico with 2,059 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 56 deaths - the United States with 2,600 cases, including three deaths - Canada with 330 cases, including one death and Costa Rica with 8 cases, including one death.

The WHO says the following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Argentina (1), Australia (1), Austria (1), Brazil (8), China (2), comprising 1 in China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and 1 in mainland China, Colombia (3), Denmark (1), El Salvador (4), France (13), Germany (12), Guatemala (1), Ireland (1), Israel (7), Italy (9), Japan (4), Netherlands (3), New Zealand (7), Norway (2), Panama (16), Poland (1), Portugal (1), Republic of Korea (3), Spain (95), Sweden (2), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (55).

At present the WHO is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the influenza A (H1N1) virus (swine flu) but does say people who are ill should delay travel plans and returning travellers who fall ill should seek appropriate medical care.

Experts say the influenza A (H1N1) is a new flu virus of swine origin first detected in April, 2009, which is infecting people and is spreading from person-to-person, and has sparked a growing outbreak of illness in the United States with an increasing number of cases being reported internationally as well.

The new flu virus appears to spread in the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread - mainly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with the virus and has been reported to cause a wide range of symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Experts say a significant number of people also have reported nausea, vomiting or diarrhea and everyone should take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, including frequent hand washing.

People who are sick should stay home and avoid contact with others in order to limit further spread of the new virus but the WHO says most H1N1 patients do not need drugs to recover but simple treatments such as hydration.

As health authorities in a number of countries prepare to limit flu drug use or have already done so, experts say the two drugs used to treat the swine flu - Tamiflu and Relenza - should be used carefully and only when needed such as for the chronically ill, pregnant women and other vulnerable patients.

The WHO says the new virus could still mutate and it recommends the use of antivirals only for high-risk groups or the group of people at increased risk, depending on the availability.

Dr. Nikki Shindo from WHO says it is important to keep the drugs working well in case the swine flu becomes more dangerous - there is concern that the swine flu could mix with other viruses, including H5N1 bird flu, and become worse in the coming months.

The United States has had the most confirmed cases affecting 45 states, but only 116 have been hospitalized and Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says pregnant women appeared especially vulnerable to H1N1, just as they are to seasonal flu, and should get prompt treatment as pregnant women risk dehydration and premature delivery when they have flu.

The CDC says seasonal influenza kills up to 500,000 people in an average year - the WHO has predicted the new H1N1 virus could eventually infect a third of the world's population.

The WHO says the overall severity of a pandemic is affected by their tendency to encircle the globe in at least two, sometimes three, waves and health officials are especially concerned because seasonal flu viruses are still circulating and could mix with the new H1N1 strain, either in people or in pigs - also the H5N1 avian influenza virus (bird flu) which has killed 258 out of 423 people infected since 2003, is still around.

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