Swine flu cases jump to 22

The number of H1N1 swine flu cases in the Cayman Islands has jumped to 22 after eight more cases were confirmed last week.

While three of the people counted among the new infections had travelled to a place with H1N1 swine flu, Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Anna Matthews said the latest figures confirm that Cayman has sustained local transmission.

‘We should expect to see the numbers continue to climb,’ she said. ‘However, all the cases so far have been mild to moderate and our strategy and message remain the same.’

Dr. Matthews said public health officials will continue to keep track of the virus’s prevalence as they continue to ask people who are sick to stay at home and minimise contact with other people as far as possible.

Public Health’s surveillance and testing programmes have also identified the presence of other seasonal flu strains in Cayman, including Influenza B and C strains.

‘Our proximity to the US and the fact that most of our residents are frequent travelers makes the presence of H1N1 in our country inevitable,’ Dr. Matthews said. ‘We continue to monitor the H1N1 flu pandemic closely and will adjust our health response to fit any changes in the nature of this flu virus.’

The latest figures come as the UN’s top health official said the spread of swine flu was ‘unstoppable’.

In the two months since the first case of swine flu was diagnosed, the H1N1 virus has spread to over 100 countries, infecting over 70,000 people and killing over 300.

“As we see today, with well over 100 countries reporting cases, once a fully fit pandemic virus emerges, its further international spread is unstoppable,” World Health Organization head Margaret Chan said on Friday at a two-day summit in Mexico.

World Health Organization representatives told the summit that universal access to a swine flu vaccine remains a ‘critical question’.

The organisation’s assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda said guaranteeing the vaccine is distributed to underdeveloped nations will require political goodwill.

Cuauhtemoc Ruiz, coordinator for the Pan-American Health Organization, said the vaccine is likely to be available in “three or four months,” but it could be up to a year before sufficient quantities are produced.

The laboratories working to produce the vaccine, he said, can make 2.5 billion doses in six months.

Dr. Chan said laboratories are looking at various possibilities, including creating a vaccine by adding a new component to the existing vaccine used for seasonal flu.

If it works, the method could triple production.

But there are fears that most of the stock that will be produced has already been reserved by the United States and European countries.

Summit host Mexico appealed for “solidarity” in providing access to any future vaccine.

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said that money should not be “the only factor taken into consideration” in distributing the vaccine, so that poor nations are not penalized.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon also called for guarantees that developing countries would have access to the vaccine once it becomes commercially available.

Questions remain about whether countries in the Americas will be able to afford a sufficient amount of the vaccine to handle the epidemic and health authorities are worried that a new wave of cases could emerge in autumn when seasonal flu returns.

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