2 May 2009
By Denise Grady & Liz Robbins
The World Health Organization announced an increase in the number of confirmed cases of swine flu on Saturday, but said there was no evidence of sustained spread in communities outside North America, which would fit the definition of a pandemic. Health officials say the continuing outbreak must be closely monitored.
“At the present time, I would still propose that a pandemic is imminent because we are seeing transmission to other countries,” Michael Ryan, the director of the World Health Organization global alert and response team, said in a teleconference from Geneva. “We have to expect that Phase 6 will be reached. We have to hope that it is not.”
Phase 5 also means a pandemic is imminent. To move up to Phase 6, the community spread would have to occur in at least one other country in another region.
On Saturday, Canadian health officials said that the virus had been found in sick pigs on one farm in Alberta, the first report of the swine flu‘ actually being found in swine. Previously, there had been heated debate about whether the virus could infect pigs, even though its genetic makeup clearly points to its having originated in swine at some point.
But people were infecting each other, and until Saturday, no pigs had been found with the virus – a fact that the pork industry used to bolster its argument that the virus should not even be named for swine. But researchers, busy with human cases, were not really looking for the disease in pigs.
The news from Canada changes things. But it has a somewhat unexpected twist: a person appears to have spread the disease to the pigs, and not the other way around. A worker at the farm had traveled to Mexico, fallen ill there and unknowingly brought the disease back to Canada last month. The worker has recovered.
About 10% of the 2,200 pigs on the farm got sick. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, all recovered without treatment in five days. The entire herd remains under quarantine as a precaution.
On Saturday the Who reported that there were 658 confirmed cases of the illness, officially known as Influenza A(H1N1) , in 16 countries. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Saturday that there were 160 cases confirmed by laboratory tests in 21 states. Thirteen people have been hospitalized.