Quarantine screening of US passengers ordered

As measure vs swine flu
By JENNY F. MANONGDO
April 26, 2009, 5:01pm

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III ordered Sunday the Bureau of Quarantine (BQ) to screen passengers coming from the US for flu symptoms following the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico that has downed more than 1,300 individuals and killed 81 since April 13.

World Health Organization (WHO) authorities on Saturday warned that the flu strain has pandemic potential, which means it could infect people in large proportions across the globe.

National Epidemiology Center (NEC) director Dr. Eric Tayag said Duque has ordered the BQ to check US inbound passengers for flu symptoms that are similar to symptoms exhibited by persons infected with swine flu. These include fever, body pain, runny nose, cough, sore throat, and in confirmed swine flu cases, diarrhea. He said this is imperative since swine flu can spread through the air.

"We have a thermal screening system at the airport. This will be used by the BQ to check passengers coming from the US if they have flu," Dr. Tayag said in an interview.

Duque has also ordered the immediate inventory of stocks of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. "This is a disease among pigs and it is not supposed to jump easily to a human. But in the US, the virus has jumped from an infected person to another person and this is what makes it alarming," Dr. Tayag said, describing the international public health concern that has sent the president of Mexico to assume emergency powers also last Saturday.

Aside from Mexico, cases of swine flu was also detected in Kansas City, Texas, California and in New York City. WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan ordered all WHO member-nations to step up their disease surveillance system and to report to WHO all cases of death that are suspected to be due to swine flu.

According to WHO, Swine influenza (A/H1N1), or “swine flu,” is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs, caused by one of several swine influenza A viruses. The virus is spread among pigs by air and direct and indirect contact, and asymptomatic carrier pigs exist. Outbreaks in pigs occur year round, with an increased incidence in the fall and winter in temperate zones. But WHO experts said it is safe to consume pork as the virus can be killed by proper cooking.

"Swine influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs. The swine influenza virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160°F/70°C, corresponding to the general guidance for the preparation of pork and other meat," experts said.

WHO officials said the potential of a virus to become a pandemic depends on whether it can spread from person-to-person. If a swine virus established efficient human-to human transmission, it can cause an influenza pandemic. The impact of a pandemic caused by such a virus is difficult to predict: it depends on virulence of the virus, existing immunity among people, cross protection by antibodies acquired from seasonal influenza infection and host factors. Swine influenza viruses can give a rise to a hybrid virus by mixing with a human influenza."

In Geneva, Swizerland, WHO warned countries around the world Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to be on alert for any unusual flu outbreaks after a unique new swine flu virus was implicated in possibly dozens of human deaths in North America.

Chan said the outbreak in Mexico and the United States constituted a "public health emergency of international concern."

The decision means countries around the world will be asked to step up reporting and surveillance of the disease, which, she said, had "pandemic potential" because it is an animal virus strain infecting people.