Sunday, May 24, 2009

H1N1 Flu: the Map and the Threat

[ ✍✍✍ Update: swine flu infections in Japan rose to 342 on Sunday, as four more people, including a 19-year-old man in Toyono, Osaka Prefecture, and an 18-year-old male high school student in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, were confirmed as having the new H1N1 virus.]

Japanese medias decided to change news navigation cape and hinder informations and say no more about the H1N1. In this way, they are lowering to the minimum the fear about the flu, and minimize the level of infection of the pandemic. Although it is known that the virus is sneaky and vicious. I am told that it is now becoming quite difficult to trust the official news (governmental NHK), the commercial TV channels, some of the print press and the Japanese wire agencies about how the H1N1 virus spreads in the Japanese archipelago and at what pace.

"This is an other case of official news guideline that we owe to the Kisha Club system, even if the risk is less or high", an experienced colleague told at my Tokyo based Foreign Correspondents' Club.

Whatever people say. Here we are with the WHO (OMS) latest: As of 06:00 GMT, 23 May 2009, 43 countries have officially reported 12 022 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection, including 86 deaths.

Confirmed domestic swine flu cases hit 338 Saturday evening in seven prefectures, although most were in Hyogo and Osaka. The other prefectures are Shiga and Kyoto in Kansai, and Tokyo, Saitama and Kanagawa in Kanto.

Quotes: "The new Saitama case involved a 29-year-old man who caught it from a friend who tested positive Friday, prefectural officials said early Saturday. The two men toured Osaka and Kyoto from Sunday to Tuesday, taking in a baseball game at Kyocera Dome and sightseeing spots in the ancient capital, before flying back to Haneda airport in Tokyo on All Nippon Airways flight No. 40 from Itami. Both got fevers Friday morning, Saitama officials said. The man, who works as a security guard in Tokyo, also said he rode in the same car with a colleague in his 60s on Thursday but that the colleague has not developed any flu symptoms, the officials said. In central Tokyo, the total stayed at three, with the latest case, a 25-year-old man from Mitaka who was in Osaka from May 14 to Wednesday, testing positive for the new flu on Friday. The man said he watched standup comedy acts and went to Universal Studios Japan during the one-week stay."

The government on Friday stated it downshifted its response to H1N1 influenza, locally called "shingata infuruenza" (new-type influenza), after realizing the domestic outbreak was an apparently milder form of the contagion that has been blamed for killing dozens of people in Mexico.

Japan's previous policy, amended in February, was geared to address the more virulent H5N1 avian flu, and called for sweeping measures to be taken in all affected areas. "But the new flu strain, H1N1 influenza A, is more or less localized."

The question "Are we ready or not?" is no longer relevant because the pandemic threat is already out nearly everywhere.

In Indonesia, a Virologist from Udayana University, Gusti Ngurah Mahardhika, who has long been advocating non-pharmaceutical measures to prevent the spread of the H5N1 virus in Bali, says "although the influenza A (H1N1) is now a low pathogenic virus that has a relatively low probability of fatality, less than 10 percent, it does not mean the world can rest on its laurels."

"Nowadays, pandemics should not be seen as situations where people drop and die like flies. But the virus is easily transmitted, and if you just look at how many people can potentially catch it, you can imagine what kind of effect it will have on the economic and SOCIAL ORDER."

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