Brazil health authorities on standby for swine flu outbreak
Brazilian Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporão says Brazil is prepared to fight a potential outbreak of swine flu, after the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the threat level to an imminent risk of a global pandemic.
So far, there is no evidence of the swine influenza virus in Brazil or that it has reached pigs, ruling out risk from contact and consumption of products of porcine origin in the country, the government says.
“It would be irresponsible to say that it will not come to Brazil. We are prepared to fight it if it gets here,” the minister said on Wednesday.
Officials say Brazil’s health service network is on alert and a contingency plan have been in place since 2005, after previous bird flu scares.
Enough medicine to treat 9 million patients has been put aside and there are 52 hospitals prepared to meet suspected cases, the minister said.
As Brazil moves into autumn, meaning lower temperatures in some areas, doctors expect regular cases of influenza to increase, but they are taking no chances.
Two suspected cases in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo have been identified, with patients being treated as if they have the disease, despite this not being confirmed.
Among a population of close to 195 million people, there are currently 36 patients being monitored in the states of Amazonas, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Santa Catarina and São Paulo.
Worldwide, 148 cases have so far been confirmed in nine countries, with eight deaths - seven in Mexico and one in the United States, WHO says.
Pork market fears
Meantime, concerned about pork exports worth an estimated $1.5 billion, the Brazilian government is to send documents to main buyers certifying the quality of meat, Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes also said on Wednesday.
Stephanes insisted pork consumption is not linked to the transmission of swine flu, suggesting the name of the illness, should be changed to ‘Mexican flu’, after the country where it originated.
The minister said he plans to invite President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for a roast pork lunch next week.
Experts from the government funded agricultural research corporation Embrapa are in the United States contributing to the development of a vaccine to combat swine flu, he added.