Swine flu case confirmed in Spain


Spain became the first country in Europe to confirm a case of swine flu today when a man who returned from a trip to Mexico last week was found to have the virus.

The unnamed man returned to Spain on April 22nd and was put under observation on April 25th with chest problems, health minister Trinidad Jimenez told a news conference this morning. About 20 other patients are under observation, officials said.

Governments around the world have moved to contain the spread of a possible flu pandemic today, as the virus spread to the United States and possibly as far as New Zealand.

As concerns mounted over the weekend, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided to activate its 24-hour "war room" command centre.

Mexico said today 149 people have died from the virus. The Health Ministry said the toll was expected to rise.

No deaths have occurred outside Mexico from the new strain of swine flu but 20 cases have been identified in the United States and six in Canada. Cases have also been confirmed in Scotland and Spain.

Flu is characterised by a sudden fever, muscle aches, sore throat and dry cough. Victims of the new strain have also suffered from vomiting and diarrhea.

Many countries have stepped up surveillance at airports and ports, using thermal cameras and sensors to find people with fever.

The United States has declared a public health emergency and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton today urged caution over travel to Mexico. "We have put up on our website information and urging caution with those who are planning to travel," Mrs Clinton told reporters. "We are taking this very seriously and working also with the World Health Organisation and other countries to try to develop a strategy to prevent the spread of this form of swine flu," she added.

The European Union's health commissioner urged citizens to avoid non-essential travel to areas affected by swine flu.

Japan's cabinet held a special meeting and said it would prioritise production of a new vaccine. Health authorities across Asia tried to reassure populations, saying they had sufficient stockpiles of anti-flu drugs to handle an outbreak.

The new flu strain, a mixture of various swine, bird and human viruses, poses the biggest risk of a large-scale pandemic since avian flu surfaced in 1997, killing several hundred people. A 1968 "Hong Kong" flu pandemic killed about one million people globally.

The WHO has declared the flu a "public health emergency of international concern" that could become a pandemic, or global outbreak of serious disease. That could cost trillions of dollars to a world economy already in its worst crisis in decades.