H1N1 surges in southern nations

Health officials discuss flu strategy

The Associated PressJuly 3, 2009 

— Swine flu is running wild in the Southern Hemisphere and is spreading rapidly through Europe, with Britain projected to reach 100,000 daily cases by the end of August. The virus is even showing signs of rebounding in Mexico.

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan and health ministers from around the globe huddled Thursday in Cancun for a two-day summit to design strategies for battling the pandemic. Nations attending include the United States, Canada, China, Britain and Brazil.

"As we see today, with well over 100 countries reporting cases, once a fully fit pandemic virus emerges, its further international spread is unstoppable," Chan said during opening remarks.

Mexican officials wanted the meeting held in the Caribbean resort city of Cancun to highlight the country's success in controlling its epidemic with a five-day national shutdown of schools and businesses in May.

The measures were applauded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and international health officials.

"Our presence here is an expression of confidence," Chan said. "Mexico is a safe, as well as a beautiful and warmly gracious, place to visit."

But Mexico is starting to see an increase in swine flu cases in isolated areas. In southern Chiapas state and the state of Yucatan, cases have more than doubled in a worrying sign that the country may see a resurgence, especially when its winter flu season begins in November.

In the space of a week ending Tuesday, the number of cases in Yucatan state jumped from 683 to 1,362, and in Chiapas from 492 to 1,079, Mexico's Health Department said. Mexico has confirmed a total of 10,687 cases to date, including 119 deaths.

With the Southern Hemisphere in the midst of its winter flu season, Chan said officials are keeping a close watch on those countries. U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said the U.S. will give 420,000 Tamiflu treatments to the Pan American Health Organization to be distributed in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Chile's epidemic has followed closely behind outbreaks in Mexico and the United States. Cases in the South American country have swelled to 7,342, including 15 deaths. The government has predicted it could see as many as 140 children hospitalized a day.

Argentina, meanwhile, has 1,587 cases and with 26 deaths, ranks third behind Mexico and the United States.

Chan emphasized that most people recover without medical treatment and most who die have underlying medical conditions. She said researchers may have a vaccine by August but tests to determine its safety would need to be done.

She also warned that officials are concerned about the virus mutating. "Like all influenza viruses, H1N1 has the advantage of surprise on its side," she said.

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