Swine flu pandemic official


The World Health Organisation has declared a swine-flu pandemic, the first gobal flu pandemic for 41 years.

WHO director general, Dr Margaret Chan, said:

The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.

We are in the earliest days of the pandemic. The virus is spreading under a close and careful watch.

No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning. The world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness.

We have a head start. This places us in a strong position. But it also creates a demand for advice and reassurance in the midst of limited data and considerable scientific uncertainty.

Thanks to close monitoring, thorough investigations, and frank reporting from countries, we have some early snapshots depicting spread of the virus and the range of illness it can cause.

We know, too, that this early, patchy picture can change very quickly. The virus writes the rules and this one, like all influenza viruses, can change the rules, without rhyme or reason, at any time.

In a media release yesterday, Health Minsiter Tony Ryall said that when WHO escalated its response there would be no need for as significant change in what was being done here. The focus was on containment.

The first concern is for health but there will also be economic costs through people having to take time off work and, while WHO is not advising any restrictions on travel, the pandemic is likely to lead to a downturn in tourism.

WHO meets to discuss pandemic announcement for swine flu


The World Health Orgnaisation is meeting to discuss upgrading Swine flu to pandemic  status.

A couple of days ago WHO reported that 74 countries had reported 27,737 cases of swine flu (H1N1) and that 41 people had died as a result of it.

A map showing its spread is here.

Macdoctor gives his 11th Swine flu update here.

This little pig went . . .


 . . . into isolation.

Goodness, me isn’t it amazing what you learn from the internet?

I’ve just discovered that pork products are illegal in Afghanistan. As a consequence of that there’s just one pig in the country and he’s been put into isolation because of fears over swine flu.

He may be alone but, as Garrick Tremain shows, he’s in good company with over-reaction to flu-fears:

dairy 10003

Swine flu transmitted from person to pig


Swine flu has been transmitted from a farm worker to a pig.

Now that the swine flu virus has passed from a farmworker to pigs, could it jump back to people? The question is important, because crossing species again could make it more deadly.

The never-before-seen virus was created when genes from pig, bird and human viruses mixed together inside a pig. Experts fear the virus that has gone from humans back into pigs in at least one case could mutate further before crossing back into humans again. But no one can predict what will happen.

“Could it gain virulence? Yes,” Juan Lubroth, an animal health expert at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, said Sunday. “It could also become milder. It could go in both directions.”

In other words, the answer is maybe and that’s definite.

Until it’s proved or disproved simple rules of hygiene – washing hands, covering mouth when coughing or sneezing –  should apply with people and animals – as they should all the time, regardless of whether or not there’s a flu bug about.

Meanwhile, Mexican officials say that the outbreak of swine flu has passed its peak.



Drought or disease, which is worse?

The World health Organisation has increased its swine flu pandemic alert level to status five which is the second highest level.

Up to 159 people have died in Mexico and about 1300 more are being tested. In the United States, a boy, aged 22 months, has died in Texas while on a visit from Mexico.

Comparing disease with drought is comparing apples with bananas but to put the seriousness of  the swine flu outbreak so far into perspective, in India more than 1500 farmers have committed suicide after being driven into debt by crop failure.

Bad press for pigs depressing for pork farmers


New Zealand pig farmers are already concerned about the impact imports of pork and associated products will have on their business and now they’re worried that swine flu will put people off bacon, ham and pork altogether.

It’s already happening in the USA where the price of pigs has fallen and  several countries have taken the opportunity the outbreak offers to impose non-tarrif barriers by banning imports from Mexico and parts of the USA.

As goNZo Freakpower  noted:

You can’t get pig flu from eating pork, but banning imports does help favour domestic interests.

But fear doesn’t worry too much about the facts and if people are worried about swine flu they might take the better safe than sorry approach to pig meat regardless of where it comes from.

The European Union Health Commission is trying to stem the tide against pork by changing the flu’s name:

“Not to have a negative effect on our industry, we decided to call it novel flu from now on,” European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou told reporters in Brussels.

I don’t think that will work. Swine flu strikes me as a very appropriate name for an illness which, what ever you call it is a pig of a thing and has already given rise to a rash of jokes .

Not that it’s a laughing matter and the over reaction in Egypt where an order has been made to cull all pigs  is no joke.

It’s not going to stop the spread of the virus and while it will certainly reduce the supply of pig meat, fear of flu will also depress demand – even though there is no risk of infection from eating pork.

There’s no comfort in that for pig farmers here, but their loss may lead to gains for sheep and beef farmers. Lamb sales increased when outbreaks of BSE put people off beef and people who stop eating pork because of swine flu might turn to beef and lamb instead.

Are we ready?


It’s official – tests have confirmed that three of the Rangitoto College students who had been in Mexico have swine flu.

Health Minister Tony Ryall made a Ministerial Statement to the House  today saying this is a time for concern and caution – not alarm.

That’s good advice because regardless of the problem alarm isn’t a good response and three cases doesn’t make a pandemic.

But are we ready if  the situation deteriorates?

Macdoctor thinks it’s potentially more serious than bird flu and isn’t impresssed with the lack of co-ordination at all levels of the health service .

No doubt the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards have pandemic protocols with lots of  boxes to tick. but if there’s a problem with co-ordination at this stage I’m not 100% confident that, boxes ticked or not, the theoretical preparation will translate into the right response in practice.

And how about individuals, are we ready?

If our house was quarantined how long could we survive with what we had on hand?

The absence of a corner dairy or convenient supermarket necessitates a well stocked pantry and freezer in the country.

We could easily survive on what we’ve got for more than a few days, and if our isolation continued for longer protein wouldn’t be a problem because if we got through all the meat in the freezer we could always kill a sheep or cattle beast. However, the vegetable garden is growing nothing but weeds at the moment so we’d have to rely on what’s in the fridge, freezer and fruit bowl, supplemented by a few jars of preserves and some tins for fruit and vegetables so if we had to stay in isolation for more than a couple of weeks we’d be scrabbling round for vitamins .

I suspect that makes us a lot better prepared than many people who eat out often, shop several times a week and keep little on hand for emergencies so would  have little to live on if they couldn’t leave home for even a few days.



Today’s contribution to poetry month was prompted by the outbreak of swine flu.

I found it last year at Opposable Thumb.

It’s Descent by Romanian poet, Marin Sorescu.


When you are ill you weigh more.
Your head sinks into the pillow,
Your bed curves in the middle,
Your body drops like a meteorite.
“He’s so heavy,” say the relatives,
They turn you on the other side
And nod meaningfully. “He weighs like the dead.”

The earth feels its prey
And concentrates upon you
Its colossal force of attraction.
The iron in you hungers to go down.
The gold in you hungers to go down.
The gravitation of the whole world has its eyes on you
And pulls you down with unseen ropes…

You look like the bell the peasants
Take down before their exodus, burying it very deep,
Marvelling at the sight of the bell digging its grave,
Eagerly biting the dust.

You are all lead
And unto yourself
You have become exceedingly all-important,
Surrounded by endless mystery.

        Marin Sorescu 

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