Washington The world’s governments raced to avoid both a pandemic and global hysteria Sunday as more possible swine flu cases surfaced from Canada to New Zealand and the United States declared a public health emergency. “It’s not a time to panic,” the White House said.
Mexico, the outbreak’s epicenter with up to 86 suspected deaths, canceled some church services and closed markets, restaurants and movie theaters. Few people ventured onto the streets, and some wore face masks.
Canada confirmed cases in six people, including some students who got mildly ill in Mexico. Countries across Asia promised to quarantine feverish travelers returning from flu-affected areas.
The U.S. declared the health emergency so it could ship roughly 12 million doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile to states in case they eventually need them — although, with 20 confirmed cases of people recovering easily, they don’t appear to for now.
Kansas is among the affected states, with two cases reported in Dickinson County.
Make no mistake: There is not a global pandemic — at least not yet. It’s not clear how many people truly have this particular strain, or why all countries but Mexico are seeing mild disease. But waiting to take protective steps until after a pandemic is declared would be too late.
“We do think this will continue to spread but we are taking aggressive actions to minimize the impact on people’s health,” said Dr. Richard Besser, acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A potential pandemic virus is defined, among other things, as a novel strain that’s not easily treated. This new strain can be treated with Tamiflu and Relenza, but not two older flu drugs. Also, the WHO wants to know if it’s easily spread from one person to a second who then spreads it again — something U.S. officials suspect.
The U.S. hasn’t advised against travel to Mexico but does urge precautions such as frequent hand-washing while there, and has begun questioning arriving travelers about flu symptoms.