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Category Archives: Pandemics and epidemics

April 29, 2009 12:01am

SOUTH Australia is on alert and braced for the arrival of swine flu.

Chief medical officer Paddy Phillips said every reported flu case would be investigated and the state would not be caught off-guard.

“While this is a serious situation we’re well prepared,” he said yesterday.

“We’ve been preparing for a situation like this for several years.

“We’re asking people who’ve been to the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and who’ve got headaches, fevers, aches and pains and who have flu-like symptoms, to attend one of the designated hospitals – that’s the Royal Adelaide, the Women’s and Children’s, Flinders hospital and in the country, Berri, Port Lincoln, Mount Gambier, Port Augusta and Whyalla (hospitals).”

Staff at those hospitals have received extra training and equipment to deal with a flu epidemic.

Today, posters will appear at emergency department entrances warning recent international travellers with flu symptoms to don masks before entering the hospital.

Professor Phillips appealed for anyone who was experiencing flu-like symptoms to isolate themselves.

“Wearing a mask is not part of our culture (but) if someone has a respiratory tract infection of any type it can reduce the spread to other people,” he said.

Pharmacies contacted yesterday said they had face masks in stock but were yet to see any significant increase in requests for them.

In 2007, the Health Department devised a plan to deal with pandemic influenza.

The plan estimates an “attack rate of 25 per cent” would result in 46,000 new cases a week and 2600 deaths over two months.

During a pandemic, “border nurses” would be stationed at the airport to screen international arrivals for influenza.

Designated flu clinics would be established, as well as fever checkpoints at hospitals and surgeries.

University of South Australia microbiologist Mary Barton, who researches zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases, said Australia appeared to be taking “appropriate action”.

It was too soon to tell whether swine flu would develop to pandemic proportions.

“It’s a wait and see,” she said.

“It could just be a new strain of flu that isn’t very nice.”

Mark Metherell, Phillip Hudson and Jonathan Dart
April 29, 2009 – 8:47AM

THE Federal Government has secured sweeping powers to combat swine flu as the number of possible cases under investigation in Australia was lowered from 111 to 91 this morning.

The Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, announced last night the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, had consented to new powers allowing health officials to detain and disinfect people suspected of having the swine flu.

Melb passengers quarantined
Passengers with any flu-like symptoms are being quarantined at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

Concern spreads over swine flu
Global concern spreads over swine flu; Perth IGA store robbed at gunpoint and 9/11 plane scare over New York.


At a glance

Australia – 91 possible cases

New Zealand – three confirmed cases, 40 people in isolation.

Mexico – over 150 deaths, 1600 suspected cases

Canada – 13 confirmed cases

USA – 65 confirmed cases

Costa Rica – 1 confirmed case

Spain – 2 confirmed cases

Scotland – 2 confirmed cases

Israel – 2 confirmed cases

The move, which Ms Roxon said was precautionary and gave “reserve-like powers”, came as officials were seeking to contact 22 Australians, eight of them from NSW, aboard a flight from Mexico to Auckland at the weekend.

On the same flight were 10 New Zealand students, at least three of whom were confirmed last night to have swine flu.

Apart from the 22, another 69 Australians, including 10 from NSW, are being tested for the flu which has proved to be relatively mild in confirmed United States cases, but has been associated with more than 150 deaths in Mexico. There are more than 1600 suspected cases there.

Ms Roxon said there had been no confirmed cases in Australia and results of tests should be known in 24 to 48 hours. She said it had taken some time to identify those Australians on the flight from Mexico, and state authorities were now seeking them and they would be tested.

The Government has also upgraded the quarantine regime to level four, to boost efforts to delay the entry of swine flu into Australia.

The new powers, which extend existing quarantine laws to swine flu, would enable the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jim Bishop, to put people under surveillance and enforce quarantine measures on planes and ships.

Ms Roxon said about 4800 people flew into Australia each day from the Americas, but yesterday only four possible cases were identified, and only one of those would need to be tested.

Yesterday authorities stepped up other precautions affecting both blood donors and travel to Mexico.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service said it would defer potential blood donors for a period of two weeks from the time they left Mexico as an “added safety measure” to cover the incubation phase of swine flu.

The Government has upgraded travel warnings for the second successive day, and is now asking people to reconsider any plans to travel to Mexico.

NSW’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said all 10 suspected cases had undergone testing, and the results were expected today rather than at the end of the week, as was initially announced.

Dr Chant said NSW had activated its pandemic plan, as had other states. Suspected victims were given the antiviral drug Tamiflu and were ordered to stay at home until results were known.

“These people would have been to Mexico, the US or Canada and obviously we are monitoring their situations closely,” she said.

Ms Roxon, stood by the decision of Australian experts not to declare pandemic status, as the US had done, saying it was a decision for the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer.

In the US there had already been a large number of confirmed cases and travel between Mexico and the US was common. “So we need to make decisions that are appropriate for our circumstances,” Ms Roxon said.

Jonathan Dart and Erik Jensen
April 29, 2009

Risky business … safety equipment supplier Todd Saunders said one company bought enough masks for a month. Photo: Domino Postiglione

A CASE of swine flu has yet to be confirmed in Australia but Todd Saunders is already working overtime to combat the virus.

Sales of protective face masks have boomed in the past two days, said Mr Saunders, the general manager of safety equipment supplier Big Safety. One of his corporate clients has placed an order for masks to protect its entire workforce in the case of an emergency.

Melb passengers quarantined
Passengers with any flu-like symptoms are being quarantined at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

“They’re planning to have enough masks for the next month for a workforce of 50,” Mr Saunders said. “We’ve also had a rush overnight of people ordering the masks.”

Only a handful of people arriving at Sydney Airport yesterday wore face masks. They came from Hong Kong and Japan – neither are flu-affected countries. “The news was quite excited,” said Hiroko Rosse, who was wearing a mask on a flight from Japan. “It was just to be safe. You never know.”

NSW nurses, seconded to the federal response, swept planes for people complaining of symptoms that “met the case definition for swine influenza.”

Five people were take to hospital for further testing, bringing the state total to 10. None of the cases have been confirmed. Two have been cleared. “They [the nurses] were going to everyone individually, checking symptoms,” said Grant Charlesworth, who had flown back to Sydney from Los Angeles. “They [the cabin crew] were making a lot of announcements an hour or two before we landed. They went through a whole heap of procedure: ‘If you have any flu symptoms, let the air crew know. If you have any symptoms in the next week, contact a doctor.’ ”

Four people complained of symptoms on Mr Charlesworth’s flight. None were deemed to require further testing. Once off the plane, customs procedures continued as normal.

Direct Health Solutions, a company that manages health issues for corporate clients including ANZ and the NAB, has had a 50 per cent increase in health inquiries, with 150 calls taken on Monday alone.

“We’re having a lot of enquiries,” the chief executive, Paul Dundon, said. “We’re running a 24-7 nurse call centre supporting around 20,000 people and there have been a lot of calls from people calling about their symptoms,” he said. “We’ve been flat out.”

The outbreak has also had a big impact on internet traffic, with Nielsen Online survey finding that almost 2 per cent of Twitter conversations involved the subject.

Economy worries grow after flu outbreak

Chris Zappone
April 28, 2009 – 9:20AM

A swine flu outbreak in North America could spell more trouble for the stricken global economy if it continues to spread, analysts said.

The deadly flu, which originates in pigs but can be transmitted from person to person, has killed 20 people in Mexico, according to reports. It has raised the prospect of creating another test for businesses and consumers already grappling with the financial crisis.

National Australia Bank international economist Mark Rodrigues said the swine flu ”could have a negative impact on the global economic scene,” although he cautioned, ”we’re not at that stage yet.”

In addition to the cases in Mexico, where as many as 80 deaths may have resulted, cases have been confirmed in the US, New Zealand and Canada.

”If it does become bigger and impacts not just on regional but global confidence,” Mr Rodrigues said, the flu ”can spur another bout of risk aversion…and can have broader implications through a range of assets classes.”

The International Monetary Fund downgraded its estimate of global growth last week, forecasting a 1.3% drop in 2009, from 0.5% growth it had expected in January.

Mr Rodrigues said pandemics, such as swine flu or SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) create ”multiple effects” that flow through the economy.

In addition to slowing demand for travel and tourism, outbreaks can deter economic activity in the countries most affected, as people are deterred from spending time in crowded commercial areas.

”If it’s serious enough it can impair the normal functioning of the economic system.”

Qantas ready

The SARS scare in 2002 and 2003 forced airlines, particularly those servicing the Asia Pacific region, to cut flights as customers avoided unnecessary travel for fear of contracting the illness.

Qantas laid off more than 1000 staff in 2003 in response to the slowdown triggered by the outbreak of SARS.

A spokesman for Qantas the airline had encountered no cases of the illness and said there are ”no specific changes to travel arrangements.”

”We have standard produces in place and regularly review them,” he said.

Qantas is working with Australian and international authorities to monitor the situation, the spokesman said.


Swine flu “could have a pretty serious impact if it was to stick around for a long time and spread,” said JP Morgan economist Helen Kevans.

“Should cases of swine flu crop up in Asia like SARS did in 2002-2003,” Ms Kevans said, it could begin to weigh on those currencies.

There have been no confirmed cases in Asia so far.

From an economic perspective, ”it could well be a storm in a tea cup,” she said. ”We’re waiting for further clues.”


Swine flu is the newest ”x-factor in the world of risk” said RBC Capital Markets Sue Trinh.

Panicky investors are hitting the sell-button on currencies wherever they see the new uncertainty.

The New Zealand dollar bought 56.68 US cents, down from 57.21 US cents on Friday, after the nation said ten students were ”highly likely” to have caught the infection after visiting Mexico.

Traders are waiting ”to see if it spreads” and ”becomes more of a pandemic,” Ms Trinh said.

”Right now it looks like it’s well contained,” she said.