Chief health officer ‘surprised’ if Yukon avoids swine flu

Swine flu may soon hit the Yukon, said Yukon chief medical officer of health Brendan Hanley. Thirteen Canadians have already contracted the virus, which has been suspected of killing 159 in Mexico.

Swine flu may soon hit the Yukon, said Yukon chief medical officer of health Brendan Hanley.

Thirteen Canadians have already contracted the virus, which has been suspected of killing 159 in Mexico.

“I would be surprised if we don’t have cases,” said Hanley.

Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia have all confirmed flu cases. All of the Canadian cases have been mild, with patients experiencing quick recoveries.

Only in Mexico and Texas has the flu become deadly.

The Canadian “pandemic planning process” is in full swing, said Hanley.

“Even though we have not seen severe cases, we are preparing for the possibility of severe cases,” he said.

On Monday, the World Health Organization raised its alert status to phase four of six, noting that the flu spreads easily throughout a community.

“The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic,” said the organization.

The US confirmed 64 mild cases of swine flu, prompting President Barack Obama to call for $1.5 billion to fight the outbreak.

New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Israel and Spain have all confirmed cases of swine flu.

Worldwide, travellers from infected countries have been greeted at airports by masked public health officials.

Since the virus is spread well before symptoms occur, it’s impossible to prevent it from coming into the Yukon.

“But what we would like to do is slow it down,” said Hanley.

Yukoners with flu-like symptoms are being encouraged to stay home.

“Fever, cough, fatigue, sore throat, sore eyes, feeling lousy—rest, stay at home; if you’re not improving, if you’re getting worse, that’s the time to get medical advice,” said Hanley.

All Yukoners who have returned from Mexico within the last two weeks should call a health-care provider or dial the Yukon’s health line at 811, he said.

Suspected swine flu cases will not be quarantined, but they may be asked to wear a mask, said Hanley.

Everybody else should wash their hands regularly, and make sure to cough into disposable tissues or shirtsleeves.

The best way to stem a pandemic is for people with even mild flu-like symptoms to stay home, says the 1994 book Evolution and Infectious Disease, by Paul Ewald.

“Socioeconomic pressures” cause people to show up to work sick, spreading the disease and hastening its development, wrote Ewald.

Across Mexico, health authorities have closed schools and public places, including all restaurants and archeological sites.

Canadians are being urged to cancel nonessential travel to Mexico.

Mexico is the most visited destination by Canadian travellers after the US, reports Statistics Canada.

Both Argentina and Cuba have suspended all flights to Mexico.

Until Mexican health officials gather a more comprehensive tally of those infected, it will be impossible to gauge the scope of the flu, said Hanley.

Further reports may find that only a tiny percentage of the infected are afflicted with severe, or fatal cases, he said.

Only 20 Mexican deaths have been directly linked to swine flu.

Some fatalities may be due to seasonal influenza, a virus that, in the past, has caused Yukon deaths.

“Often swine influenza is even less severe than seasonal influenza,” said Hanley.

Swine flu has prompted such hefty action from health officials simply because it’s a never-before-seen strain to which humans have no natural immunity.

Canada’s last major flu pandemic was in 1957, when tens of thousands of Canadians were hit by an “Asian flu” that originated in Northern China. When the flu fizzled out in the spring of 1958, 2,000 Canadians had died.

In 2004, a US company unwittingly packaged the Asian flu virus into a testing kit and mailed it to more than 5,000 labs worldwide. The kits were quickly destroyed after a Canadian lab noted the error.

Despite its name, swine flu has not been linked directly to pigs.

Hanley suggested the term has “historical” origins.

Some countries have mistakenly begun banning pork exports from North America, prompting US officials to emphasize that it “is not a food-borne crisis.”

Pigs and birds have the innate ability to “shuffle” around genes, making them notorious producers of deadly illnesses.

Swine flu may not yet have infected any Yukoners, but it has made an impact at the gas pump.

Worldwide oil prices have dropped owing to fears that the flu will discourage international travel.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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