Swine flu tally has U.S. top and Australia 6th

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The latest update, # 52, from the World Health Organisation on the influenza A H1N1 pandemic (swine flu), says as of the 22nd of June the grand total of those infected is now 52,160 including 231 deaths.

The World Health Organisation's (WHO) tally has the U.S. top of the league with 21,449 cases including 87 deaths, Mexico with 7,624 cases including 113 deaths, Canada with 5,710 cases including 13 deaths, Chile with 4,315 cases including 4 deaths, the United Kingdom with 2,506 cases including 1 death and then Australia with 2,436 including 2 swine flu related death.

These numbers are of course changing on a daily basis and health officials in Australia are warning that the Aboriginal population is at particular risk.

Australia's first swine related death has befallen a 26 year old indigenous man from a remote Aboriginal community who had serious underlying medical problems.

As a result an emergency medical response team has been sent to the man's remote community of Kiwirrkurra more than 600km west of Alice Springs in the Gibson Desert in Western Australia. The team are armed with antiviral drugs, face masks and cleaning products to contain any infection - however public health officials say the disease has not taken hold in the small community.

The Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the high rates of chronic disease among Aboriginals, who suffer the country's worst poverty and ill health, could make them particularly vulnerable.

Health officials say another man, non-Aboriginal, age 35, who contracted swine flu also had "significant underlying medical problems" - the man from Colac in south-western Victorian, had type 2 diabetes and was obese - he apparently died from respiratory failure on the weekend.

Though swine flu is not considered life-threatening in the majority of cases Ms Roxon says Aborigines may present a special case and health authorities are working to boost their supplies of antiviral drugs for remote indigenous communities.

In the Northern Territory, where Aborigines make up almost a third of the population, health authorities say swine flu appears to be spreading among remote indigenous with the communities number of confirmed cases doubling in the last week to 61, with three children hospitalised in Alice Springs.

The Northern Territory Health Minister Kon Vatskalis says the government is closely monitoring the situation in outback settlements and town camps on the outskirts of urban areas where many Aborigines live and authorities have distributed antiviral medications and personal protective equipment to all remote health centres and general practices.

Mr Vatskalis says in remote communities where the infection has arrived or seems imminent, immediate testing and treatment is being offered to those people with flu symptoms and known risk factors.

Swine flu has become a sensitive issue in some Aboriginal communities who fear stigmatisation - Northern Territory health authorities have not revealed which communities in central Australia have been affected with swine flu, referring to swine flu cases as being in the "Warlpiri region", a vast area with a number of different communities.

Experts say there will inevitably be more swine flu deaths and those with chronic health conditions were among the most vulnerable but they also say each year normal seasonal flu claims the lives of victims and the same can be expected from this new swine flu virus where people with existing serious health issues will be more severely affected.

In Australia there are 520,000 Aborigines who represent 2.5% of the population - chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney and heart disease are common and life expectancy 17 years less than the national average.

Nicola Roxon says she is confident that the planning already done and the steps taken to pre-deploy Tamiflu and Relenza to many remote areas will help but says the situation warrants care as there is still a long way to go with swine flu, particularly in Australia's winter season.

It was the rapid spread of the virus in Australia which prompted the WHO to declare the first global pandemic in 40 years earlier this month - last week Australia's swine flu alert level was changed to "protect," which means only the most vulnerable receive anti-viral treatments such as Tamiflu and Relenza.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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