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Swine flu: India to screen all fliers

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring the extent of swine flu only two stages away from developing into a pandemic,the Union Health Ministry has pressed the panic button. Unlike the Ministry’s earlier decision to screen people coming from the affected countries,it decided to screen all the passengers even if they are taking indirect flights. […]

Teena Thacker & Anuradha Mascarenhasnew Delhi | Pune |
April 29, 2009 1:13:47 am

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring the extent of swine flu only two stages away from developing into a pandemic,the Union Health Ministry has pressed the panic button. Unlike the Ministry’s earlier decision to screen people coming from the affected countries,it decided to screen all the passengers even if they are taking indirect flights.

“All passengers who are going to these countries even for changing their flights and then coming to India will be screened too. The passengers will be given a pro forma in flight for self-declaration. Referral numbers will be left on it so that they can get in touch with the health authorities here in case of emergency,” said Dr V M Katoch,director general,Indian Council of Medical Research.

The Ministry has,however,not received any suspected case so far. “Influenza surveillance is on and random checking has started in hospitals too. Samples have been taken from Bara Hindu Rao,St Stephens,Aruna Asif Ali hospital and so far there is no positive case. The samples have been going to the NICD and NIV,Pune,” added a senior official in National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD).

At an inter-ministerial group meet on Tuesday,the Health Ministry issued instructions to the Civil Aviation Ministry for screening passengers. NICD experts have started formulating guidelines comprising dos and don’ts for the people,infection control practices and respiratory etiquette. “By tomorrow the guidelines will be ready and will be posted on the website,” added the official.

“The health officials at the airports have been alerted and their numbers will be increased with each passing day. The Cabinet Secretary has been informed about the situation,” added Dr Katoch.

Officials said they were prepared and India had already stockpiled one million doses of Tamiflu.

The National Institute of Virology,Pune,was flooded with frantic calls — more than 100 — from people who recently returned from Mexico. NIV director A C Mishra is at the WHO headquarters in Geneva in view of the outbreak.

In Mumbai,the state Government decided to screen passengers coming in both by air and sea,starting Wednesday,for symptoms of swine flu.

Officials said Maharashtra had a stock of Tamiflu medicines and had appointed a team of 12 doctors at the airport apart from the port and BMC hospitals.

Spreads to Israel,NZ; more cases in US

Israel & New Zealand on Tuesday confirmed cases of swine flu that has killed 149 people in Mexico. There are 64 cases in the US. Canada,Spain and Britain also have confirmed cases,and many other countries have suspected infections. But no deaths have been outside of Mexico.

Britain,France,Germany,Canada and the US issued travel alerts for Mexico,which relies on tourism as a main source of foreign currency.

The who said a pandemic — a global outbreak of a serious new illness — is not yet inevitable but that all countries should prepare for the worst,especially poorer developing nations. “They really get hit disproportionally hard,” said WHO acting assistant director-general Dr Keiji Fukuda.

The White House on Tuesday said President Barack Obama’s health was “never in danger” after a section of the media raised questions over his condition after he came in contact with a person in Mexico who died later due to swine flu.

Hong Kong said it has assigned a team of scientists to develop a test that will cut the time it takes to diagnose the swine flu strain from a few days to a few hours. Researchers in Hong Kong played a big role in determining how to treat SARS.

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