Europe faces reality of swine flu outbreak

28th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The first confirmed infections of the new strain of the H1N1 virus outside the Americas came as the European Union called for urgent talks to confront the threat.

London -- Europe faced up to the reality of a trans-Atlantic outbreak of Mexican swine flu Monday after two patients tested positive in Scotland following an initial case confirmed in Spain.

The first confirmed infections of the new strain of the H1N1 virus outside the Americas came as the European Union called for urgent talks to confront the threat and the 27-nation bloc advised against non-essential travel to outbreak centres in Mexico and the United States.

As fears for airlines sent shivers down stock markets, a German tour operator cancelled trips to Mexico, Russia began airport checks, Poland tightened border controls and Ukraine banned the import of pork products from Mexico, the US, Canada and New Zealand, where 10 suspect cases have also been identified.

World health officials have stepped up the battle against the new virus as Mexico upped the probable death toll from the epidemic to 149 after the US declared a public emergency. The number of cases under observation in Mexico was more than 1,600.

Two people admitted to a hospital in Scotland after travelling to Mexico have been confirmed as the first cases of swine flu in Britain, Scottish Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

"I can confirm that tests have demonstrated conclusively that the two Scottish cases of swine flu are positive," said Sturgeon, also Deputy First Minister of the semi-autonomous country north of England, adding that the two confirmed patients were "recovering well."

Seven other people who came into contact with them, among 22 tested, have developed mild symptoms of the flu, she added.

"I would reiterate that the threat to the public remains low and that the precautionary actions we have taken over the last two days have been important in allowing us to respond appropriately and give us the best prospect of disrupting the spread of the virus."

The health minister for the government in London, Alan Johnson, said earlier that "enhanced" health checks were being implemented at entry points across the British Isles to identify passengers arriving with symptoms of the illness.

Spain's health ministry said tests on a 23-year-old man who returned from Mexico last week confirmed he had contracted the disease. Spain has another 20 suspected cases.

Elsewhere in Europe, six suspected cases are being investigated in Belgium along with five each in Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland and one in France. Three tested negative earlier in the day in France.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou advised caution for all travellers.

"I would try to avoid non-essential travel to the areas which are reported to be in the centre of the cluster," she said in a video statement.

People "should avoid travelling to Mexico or the USA unless it's very urgent for them," she said, adding that the precaution was necessary "to minimise the personal risk and to reduce of the potential risk to spread the infection."

In remarks to the BBC which qualify her comments about travel to the US and Mexico, she stressed: "I meant advice, not a ban, to Mexico City especially and those states in the US where we have many outbreaks."

Her spokeswoman also underlined she was not advising against travel to Spain.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said European authorities would remain vigilant.

"We will continue to assess the information we are getting from the experts, evaluate the potential danger and decide together with member states on the measures to take," he said.

Germany's leading tourism group, TUI, cancelled Mexico City visits until May 5, and said it would offer alternatives to clients who had planned to travel to other parts of Mexico.


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