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Monday, May 11, 2009

China confirms first swine flu case

Costa Rica reports death; Japan, Norway, Australia confirm new cases

Quarantine officials with protective masks and clothing prepare to check passengers on a newly arrived plane Saturday at Narita International Airport in Japan. Japan confirmed its first cases of swine flu Saturday in three people who recently returned from Canada.

A Chinese man returning from studying at a U.S. university has become the first confirmed case of swine flu in mainland China, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday.

The Health Ministry identified the patient as a 30-year-old student surnamed Bao studying at the University of Missouri.

An official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the man was in stable condition.

The Health Ministry said in a statement on its Web site that Bao left St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, and transited St. Paul, Minn., on a flight that went to Tokyo.

In Tokyo he took a Northwest Airlines flight to Beijing on Friday that arrived Saturday and then got on a different plane to Chengdu, the capital of southwestern Sichuan province, the ministry said.

On the last flight, Bao started experiencing symptoms that included a fever, sore throat, cough and runny nose, the statement said.

Bao immediately sought treatment at the Sichuan People's Hospital and was transferred to the Chengdu Infectious Disease Hospital, the ministry said. People who came into close contact with the man during his medical examination have also been put under medical surveillance.

Looking for those with contact
The ministry said it has asked local authorities to locate anyone who was in close contact with Bao.

The official from the disease center — who spoke on condition of anonymity citing standard practice — said 130 other people from the patient's flight have been quarantined. The official Xinhua News Agency said Bao's girlfriend and father as well as a taxi driver have been placed under quarantine, according to the Sichuan health authorities.

China has been accused in the past of not acting quickly enough to combat the spread of diseases, especially the 2003 global outbreak of SARS. Chastened by that experience and subsequent threats from avian flu, the government this time has acted quickly and decisively to block an outbreak, but some of its measures have been criticized as excessive.

The swine flu-prevention measures include bans on imports of pork from Mexico, some U.S. states and Alberta in Canada. Beijing has also canceled the only direct flights between China and Mexico, a twice-weekly service by Aeromexico. Authorities require arriving travelers with flu-like symptoms to report themselves and have placed some travelers under weeklong quarantines.

China defended the steps as necessary to keep swine flu out of the world's most populous nation. But Mexican officials protested that their citizens were singled out based solely on their nationality, noting dozens were quarantined when they arrived whether or not they had been in contact with sick people or even not been in their homeland during the flu outbreak.

Mexico's government on Sunday called China's treatment of its citizens unacceptable and said it would not participate in a Shanghai trade fair. Mexican officials said China had withdrawn Mexico's "guest of honor" status at the May 19-21 food fair.

The virus has killed at least 53 people and sickened more than 4,370 in 29 countries, mostly in the U.S. and Mexico, but has so far largely spared Asia.

First death in Costa Rica
On Saturday, Costa Rica reported the first swine flu death outside North America and the U.S. announced its third death from the virus, while Mexico delayed the reopening of primary schools in some states.

Japanese authorities, meanwhile, scambled to limit contact with their country's first cases, and Australia and Norway joined the list of nations with confirmed cases of swine flu.

The Health Ministry in Costa Rica confirmed the swine flu death of a 53-year-old man, bringing the global death toll to 53, including 48 in Mexico, three in the United States and one in Canada.

Like other deaths outside Mexico, the Costa Rican man suffered from complicating illnesses, including diabetes and chronic lung disease. In the latest U.S. death, with health officials in Washington state said Saturday night that a 30-year-old man with underlying heart conditions died last week with what appeared to be complications of swine flu.

Previously, U.S. authorities reported swine flu deaths of a toddler with a heart defect and a woman with rheumatoid arthritis, and Canadian officials said the woman who died there also had other health problems but gave no details.

But in Mexico, where 48 people with swine flu have died, most of the victims have been adults aged 20 to 49, and many had no reported complicating factors.

The Costa Rican fatality was one of eight swine flu cases in the Central American country confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila told The Associated Press. Previously, deaths had only been reported in Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Avila said officials have been unable to determine how the Costa Rican patients became infected, but she said he had not recently traveled abroad. Many flu sufferers in other countries have been linked to recent trips to the United States or Mexico.

Mexico's count rises
Mexico, which raised its count of confirmed cases to 1,626 based on tests of earlier patients, continued to gradually lift a nationwide shutdown of schools, businesses, churches and soccer stadiums.

But an upswing in suspected — though not confirmed — cases in parts of Mexico prompted authorities in at least six of the country's 31 states to delay plans to let primary school students return to class on Monday after a two-week break.

"It has been very stable ... except for those states," Health Department spokesman Carlos Olmos said, referring to states in central and southern Mexico.

Mexican health authorities released a breakdown of the first 45 of the country's 48 flu deaths that showed that 84 percent of the victims were between the ages of 20 and 54. Only 2.2 percent were immune-depressed, and none had a previous history of respiratory disease.

Students test positive
In Japan, authorities quarantined a high school teacher and three teenage students who tested positive in an airport test for swine flu after they returned from a school trip to Canada. Officials said they were working with the World Health Organization to contact at least 13 people on the flight who had gone on to other destinations.

Japanese Health and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe acknowledged it would be difficult to trace everyone who came into contact with the infected Japanese, who visited Ontario on a home-stay program in a group of about 30 students. The three were isolated and recovering at a hospital near Narita International Airport.

"There are limitations to what we can do, but we will continue to monitor the situation and strengthen or relax such measures as needed," he told reporters.

Public broadcaster NHK TV urged people who were aboard the same Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit to call a special telephone number for consultations. So far, 49 people had been traced and would be monitored for 10 days, officials said.

A handful of cases have cropped up in the region, including in South Korea and Hong Kong. The Chinese territory quarantined more than 200 people in a hotel after confirming its first case in a guest a week ago. They were released on Friday.

New cases in Australia, Norway
Australia and Norway joined the list of countries with confirmed cases of swine flu and an upswing in suspected — though not confirmed — cases in parts of Mexico prompted authorities in at least six of the country's 31 states to delay plans to let primary school students return to class on Monday after a two-week break.

"It has been very stable ... except for those states," said Health Department spokesman Carlos Olmos, referring to states in central and southern Mexico.

The chief medical officer for the Canadian province of Alberta, Andre Corriveau, said Friday that a woman who died on April 28 had been infected with the virus. The death of the woman, who was in her 30s, was initially attributed to her other health problems.

Officials said she had not left the country recently, but could not confirm whether she was in contact with anyone who had recently returned from Mexico. Corriveau said 300 people who attended the woman's wake were being monitored for signs of the illness.

People with chronic illnesses are at greatest risk for severe problems from flu, along with the elderly and young children.

Australia reported its first case on Saturday in a woman it said was no longer infectious. She first noticed her symptoms while traveling in the U.S., federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon told reporters.

New Zealand — the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to confirm cases — reported two more on Saturday for a total of seven. The two high school students returned last month from a school trip to Mexico. Six of the country's cases were in students and a teacher on that trip; the seventh traveled on the same plane as the group.

Norway's National Health Directorate reported that country's first two confirmed cases: a man and a woman, both aged 20, who had been studying in Mexico.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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