Monday, April 27, 2009

Israeli suspected of having swine flu in Mideast first

Posted: 26 April 2009 2104 hrs

 Soldiers patrol the streets wearing face masks as prevention against the swine flu virus in Mexico City.

JERUSALEM - In the first suspected swine flu case in the Middle East, a 26-year-old Israeli man has been hospitalised upon returning from Mexico on suspicion of contracting the potentially fatal strain, hospital officials told AFP on Sunday. 

The man checked into the Laniado hospital in the coastal city of Netanya with flu-like symptoms and doctors were trying to determine whether he had contracted the disease, a spokeswoman said. 

"He came back from Mexico on Friday night and was hospitalised on Saturday night," she said. 

"He is running a high fever but his life is not apparently in danger," she said, adding that the patient had been put in isolation. 

The director of the hospital, Avinoam Shkolnik told the Ynet news website that based on preliminary tests, the patient did not appear to have contracted swine flu. 

But if confirmed, the case would be the first in the Middle East. 

The Israeli foreign ministry has advised its nationals in Mexico to take precautions to minimise their chances of contracting H1N1 strain swine influenza, such as avoiding mass public gatherings. 

In line with the Mexican government's decision to cancel hundreds of public events, the Israeli embassy in Mexico City called off its celebration of Israeli Independence Day this week. 

The new flu epidemic has killed up to 81 people in Mexico and the World Health Organisation has expressed fears it could reach "pandemic" proportions. 

After a meeting of its emergency committee, the UN agency branded the outbreak "a public health emergency of international concern". 

"This virus has clearly a pandemic potential," its director general, Margaret Chan, said on Saturday. 

In a statement, the WHO said it was recommending that all nations "intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia." 

In Mexico, 20 people have been confirmed to have contracted the disease, 61 are suspected of it and some 1,324 patients with flu symptoms were under investigation, Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said. 

The outbreak has also spread to the United States, where at least 10 people have been infected. 

In New Zealand, Health Minister Tony Ryall said that 10 teenagers who had recently travelled to Mexico had tested positive for influenza and are "likely" to have contracted swine flu. 

The swine flu strain has aroused particular concern because it appears to be transmitted from human to human and in Mexico has afflicted healthy young adults rather than infants or the elderly. 

- AFP/ir