4 new swine flu cases

Four new cases of H1N1 swine flu have been confirmed in the Cayman Islands, bringing the total number of cases here to 13.

The Caribbean Epidemiology Centre in Trinidad confirmed the cases Monday from samples sent for testing last week.

‘Although we are still in the early stages of this pandemic, we are relieved to note that all the local cases have produced only mild flu-like illness,’ stated Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Anna Matthews.

She said the Public Health message remains the same: Be vigilant with basic hygiene, and for those who are sick — consult your doctor and stay home if advised to do so, in order to avoid spreading the flu.

Public health officials did not state whether the latest cases were imported or caught through local transmissions.

‘The distinction between these two is at times unclear, and it takes time to investigate,’ explained Susan Watler, an information officer with Government Information Services.

‘We don’t want to wait to inform the public while the investigation takes place. However, in the interest of surveillance, public health officials continue to inspect the source of all cases,’ she said.

The latest cases in the Cayman Islands come as international health officials said that for the first time, a case of swine flu has proven resistant to Tamiflu – the leading pharmaceutical weapon against the new virus.

The resistance was seen in a patient in Denmark, who has recovered.

It appears the strain developed in a patient who was taking the drug to prevent illness, and it has not spread to others.

That’s a much better scenario than if the patient had not been taking Tamiflu and picked up a drug-resistant strain already spreading through the public, said Dr. Carolyn Bridges of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also, it is not a mutation that includes pieces of both seasonal flu and the new pandemic form of the virus, according to Roche, the Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company that makes Tamiflu. Scientists have been worried about the new swine flu swapping genes with seasonal or other types of flu and perhaps mutating into a more dangerous or more infectious form.

World Health Organisation Director General Dr. Margaret Chan told a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Monday that scientists are yet to see signs of the virus mixing with other influenza viruses.

“The virus is still very stable,” she said. ‘But as we all know the influenza virus is highly unpredictable and has great potential for mutation,” she added.

Until an effective vaccine is developed, the drugs Tamiflu and Relenza have been considered the best available defence against the swine flu virus.

Tamiflu resistance has not been seen in nearly 200 swine flu samples tested in the United States, Dr. Bridges said. But the resistance has been seen in other types of flu. Late last year, CDC officials reported that the most common flu bug circulating at the time was overwhelmingly resistant to Tamiflu. Health officials have believed it was probably a matter of time before a swine flu sample tested resistant, too.

The Danish case was isolated, however, and guidelines from the CDC and the World Health Organization continue to recommend Tamiflu as a treatment.

“It is possible to see occasional reports of resistance while a drug remains largely effective,” said Terry Hurley, a Roche spokesman.

As of Monday, there had been almost 71,000 reported cases of H1N1swine flu worldwide, including 311 deaths.

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