Swine Flu Spreads Germany Confirms First Human-to-Human Infection

Swine flu is spreading -- and it's not just affecting travellers returning from Mexico. Germany reported its first case of human-to-human infection on Friday. Now the WHO wants to understand just how easy it is to catch the A/H1N1 virus.


The A/H1N1 flu is spreading outside of North America -- but so far most cases have been "mild."

While Denmark and Hong Kong announced their first confirmed cases of so-called swine flu on Friday, the first case of human-to-human infection in Germany was also confirmed.

A doctor in Mexico shows a strip used to detect the A/H1N1 virus.
AFP

A doctor in Mexico shows a strip used to detect the A/H1N1 virus.

The German case concerned a nurse who had contracted the virus at a hospital in Bavaria from a patient recently returned from Mexico. So far only Spain had reported a similar transmission of the virus within Europe.

Jörg Hacker, head of the Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute, said that the nurse had since recovered from the flu, which has spread from Mexico across the world. There are now five confirmed cases in Germany, four of them in Bavaria and one in Hamburg, and Hacker said that further cases were expected. "We are not surprised, but we are concerned," he said.

The virus has the potential "to spread and to change," Hacker said, adding that the institute had sent two epidemiologists to Bavaria to try to prevent a further spread of the virus.

Hacker said he didn't know why the disease has proved so fatal in Mexico yet most cases outside of the country have been relatively mild. While 176 people have died from the new strain of flu in Mexico, only one has died outside the country: a toddler from Mexico who travelled to the United States.

Asia saw its first case when a Mexican citizen developed a fever after arriving in Hong Kong via Shanghai on Thursday. Danish authorities confirmed the first case in Scandinavia and there are now 132 confirmed cases in the US, 34 in Canada and 13 in Spain. Other countries with confirmed cases of the virus include the United Kingdom, Israel, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

In New Zealand, where four cases have been confirmed so far, some unusual measures are being proposed to help stop the spread of the disease. The Catholic Church has instructed priests not to place the communion wafer directly in people's mouths while the Maori people are being urged to forgo their traditional greeting of pressing noses together.

The World Health Organization says it does not know enough yet about the A/H1N1 strain to say how deadly it is, or how long any potential pandemic might be. That is why it is particularly important to know how easily it can be passed from one human to another.

The WHO said on Friday that it had no plans to call a meeting of its emergency committee so there is little immediate likelihood of the current phase 5 alert being raised to full phase 6 pandemic level. For that, the organization would have to be convinced that the virus is spreading in a sustained way in another region apart from North America.

Meanwhile in Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has asked people to stay at home over the long holiday weekend in order to try to contain the virus. Officials are already encouraged by the fact that the number of new cases are dropping, with just 46 patients admitted to hospital with severe flu symptoms on Thursday compared to 212 on April 20.

It has proved difficult to assess the spread of the disease in Mexico because the country lacks diagnostic facilities. Only around a dozen of the 176 presumed swine flu deaths have been confirmed as such in foreign laboratories. Many of those who died were buried before proper tests could be carried out.

smd -- with wire reports

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