A thermal camera monitors the body temperature of passengers arriving from overseas against the possible infection of the swine flu at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 26, 2009. Asian health authorities were on alert Sunday, with some checking passengers and pork products from Mexico, as the World Health Organization declared the deadly swine flu outbreak a public health emergency of "pandemic potential." (AP Photo/Yonhap, Kim Hyun-tai)
Sunday, April 26, 2009
By SHINO YUASA
TOKYO - Asian health authorities were on alert Sunday, with some checking passengers and pork products from Mexico, as the World Health Organization declared the deadly swine flu outbreak a public health emergency of "pandemic potential."
Japan's biggest international airport stepped up health surveillance, while the Philippines said it may quarantine passengers with fevers who have been to Mexico. Health authorities in Thailand and Hong Kong said they were closely monitoring the situation.
China said anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms within two weeks of arriving in the country from swine-flu affected territories was required to report to authorities.
Malaysia and other Asian nations said they were awaiting further advice from WHO, whose Director-General Margaret Chan said Saturday the North American outbreak of a never-before-seen virus was a very serious situation with "pandemic potential."
At least 81 people have died from severe pneumonia caused by a flu-like illness in Mexico, according to WHO. Some of those who died are confirmed to have a unique version of the A/H1N1 flu virus that is a combination of bird, pig and human viruses.
U.S. authorities said 11 people were infected with swine flu, and all recovered or are recovering and at least two were hospitalized.
Mexico has closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters in a bid to contain the outbreak, which may have sickened about 1,000 people there.
"It would be prudent for health officials within countries to be alert to outbreaks of influenza-like illness or pneumonia, especially if these occur in months outside the usual peak influenza season," Chan said at a telephone news conference in Geneva on Saturday.
"Another important signal is excess cases of severe or fatal flu-like illness in groups other than young children and the elderly, who are usually at highest risk during normal seasonal flu," she said, adding, "the situation is evolving quickly."
At Tokyo's Narita airport _ among the world's busiest with more than 96,000 people using it daily _ officials installed a device at the arrival gate for flights from Mexico to measure the temperatures of passengers.
"We are increasing health surveillance following the outbreak of swine flu," said Akira Yukitoki, an official at the airport's quarantine station. He said more than 160 passengers arriving from Mexico on Saturday were screened by the thermographic machine. No one complained of fever or severe coughing.
The airport also plans to put up special signs for passengers going to Mexico, urging them to "wear masks, wash hands and gargle," Yukitoki said.
"What we have to do now is to see ... whether all cases in Mexico are epidemiologically linked," said Hong Kong's Undersecretary for Food and Health Gabriel Leung. He refused to say whether Hong Kong would implement checks on people arriving from Mexico.
Asia has grappled in recent years with the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has killed at least 257 people worldwide since late 2003, according to WHO. Nearly 45 percent of the global bird flu deaths have occurred in Indonesia, with 115 fatalities.
Scientists have warned for years about the potential for a pandemic caused by viruses that mix genetic material from humans and animals.
No vaccine specifically protects against swine flu, and it is unclear how much protection current human flu vaccines might offer.
Associated Press writers Gillian Wong in Beijing, Oliver Teves in Manila, Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong, Grant Peck in Bangkok and Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.