Swine Flu Cases May Increase Until July, Chile Says

By Nathan Gill
     June 10 (Bloomberg) — Swine flu cases in Chile, the country with the most infections outside North America, may continue to climb until early July, health officials said.
     Confirmed cases reached 1,694, from 890 on June 5, the Ministry of Health in Santiago said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The number of people diagnosed with the new H1N1 influenza strain has quadrupled since the weekend, when officials began including cases reported by private clinics.
     Most patients in Chile are children and adolescents ages 5 to 19 living in Santiago and the southern city of Puerto Montt, the ministry said. The World Health Organization is looking for evidence that the virus is taking hold in multiple places outside Mexico and the U.S., where it was discovered in mid-April, to determine whether it has touched off a pandemic.
     “The majority of the regions have reported confirmed cases and are expecting an increase in walk-in consultations in the next week and a peak in the next two or three weeks,” Chile’s health ministry said.
     Seventy-four countries have reported 27,737 swine flu cases, 141 of which were fatal, the WHO in Geneva said today. Mexico and the U.S. account for about three-quarters of confirmed infections worldwide. Only Canada, Chile, Australia and the U.K. have officially reported more than 500 cases.
Pandemic Designation
     The WHO is holding off on declaring a flu pandemic, the first since 1968, while it prepares governments and the public for the announcement, Keiji Fukuda, the agency’s assistant director-general of health security and environment, told reporters on a conference call yesterday. The WHO’s alert system is at Level 5, one step below a pandemic.
     Chile’s Public Health Institute confirmed a total of 533 cases, compared with 1,161 patients who were diagnosed after attending private hospitals and clinics. Two people have died and 29 are in critical condition, authorities said.
     The health ministry plans to utilize 800 hospital beds in children’s wards to treat patients with respiratory infections, according to the statement. There have been no reported cases of infections in patients with chronic immune deficiencies such as HIV and AIDS, the ministry said.
‘Failure Experts’
     The health ministry’s advisers are “failure experts,” Roberto Sepulveda, a member of the health commission of Chile’s lower house of Congress, said in an e-mailed statement. “The improvisation authorities are using to face this new problem shows once again the poor quality of public health in the country.”
     The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is sending a team of epidemiologists to review Chile’s handling of the flu outbreak and to study the spread of the virus in Puerto Montt, Health Minister Alvaro Erazo today told reporters in Santiago. The CDC is expected to make recommendations to improve the countries handling of the outbreak, Erazo said.
     Pablo Rodriguez, president of the nation’s medical association, said winter weather and air pollution are two factors that have aggravated the virus’s transmission.
     “Pollution is definitely a factor that negatively influences the respiratory pathology during the winter period,” Rodriguez said today in an interview. “There’s a lot of alarm about this virus, but it’s good that we are prepared for the future when we actually have a pandemic with greater mortality.
     Raising the WHO alert to Level 6 may have more economic costs, but at times like this, one has to prioritize health over economy.”

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