CAIRO: The World Health Organization declared its first influenza pandemic in 40 years after an emergency meeting of scientific experts Thursday on a swine flu outbreak which has hit 74 countries.
On the same day, the Egyptian Ministry of Health reported two new cases of swine flu in Egypt, bringing the total to 12.
The wife of the American engineer who had tested positive for the H1N1 virus on Wednesday, also tested positive on Thursday, Abdel Rahman Shahin, official spokesperson of Ministry of Health said
She is a 34-year-old Colombian citizen who arrived to Cairo from the United States with her husband on June 7. She is receiving treatment at Al-Sadr Hospital in Abbasiya with her husband.
Both husband and wife are in a stable condition, Shahin said.
The test results for the 20 people who have interacted with the couple since they came to Egypt came negative.
The second case is of one-and-a-half-year-old child, the son of the Egyptian man who tested positive for the virus in Alexandria on Wednesday, Shahin said.
The child arrived to Cairo from the US on June 7 and experienced flu-like symptoms while traveling to Alexandria. He was admitted to a hospital in the coastal city and tested positive for the virus.
According to Shahin, the child’s condition is stable. His mother and all the people he interacted with, including those on the same flight to Egypt, are being tested. The results are yet to be announced.
The seven cases that were discovered earlier this week are all recovering, he said.
A formal declaration from the WHO was expected after the UN body’s chief Margaret Chan briefs diplomats at its Geneva headquarters Thursday evening, but officials and diplomatic sources said a decision had been taken at the meeting of scientific experts to raise the pandemic alert level to the maximum level.
Chan “confirmed that we would move to phase six, said an American diplomat at the end of a meeting with ambassadors in Geneva.
An Egyptian diplomat added that Chan said during the meeting that “you don’t have to be alarmed, but you shouldn’t be complacent.
“No size fits all, the important message from the meeting is that we have different countries having to face different cases. There is not one single prescription.
The expected declaration comes amid growing evidence that the virus, which originated in Mexico two months ago, is now being widely transmitted between humans in Asia and Europe as well as the Americas.
Under WHO guidelines, one key criterion for declaring a pandemic is established community spread in a country outside the first region the disease was reported.
The UN body raised its six-phase alert system to five at the end of April, indicating that a pandemic is imminent, and officials said earlier this week that a decision to move up to the maximum level was “very, very close.
If a pandemic is indeed declared many countries will have to think about changing their approach to the virus, the WHO had said.
Countries such as Australia, Britain or Japan, which are reporting growing numbers of infections, should wind down certain activities as there would no longer be such an emphasis on gathering data about the spread of the virus.
Countries where the disease was widespread like Mexico or the United States need not change their approach, but those where the virus is yet to be detected should think about early containment of A(H1N1) through quarantining, he said.
In Egypt, rumors were spreading like wildfire, but officials were quick to respond.
Shahin denied rumors about the Ministry of Health’s plans to close metro stations because of swine flu.
He also refuted rumors that suggested the ministry had closed down the McDonald’s branch on Nasr Street in Maadi after one of its staff tested positive for the virus.
According to an official statement sent by McDonald’s Egypt to Daily News Egypt, all shops and restaurants on Nasr Street were closed on Wednesday for one hour after an American engineer, who works in an oil company in Maadi, tested positive for the virus.
“We would like to state very clearly that McDonald’s Maadi Branch has resumed operation [since Wednesday] and there have been no cases of H1N1 at any of McDonald’s branches and that as standard our restaurants and all members of staff practice the highest standard of hygiene, the statement said.
“The current status of the disease [H1N1 flu] in Egypt does not require any special precautionary measure, Shahin said.
On Wednesday, the number of A (H1N1) infections reported to the health agency by 74 countries had reached 27,737, including 141 deaths.
The vast majority of deaths have been in Mexico where 108 are known to have been killed by the virus. More than 6,133 have been infected there.
The impact of the outbreak is being felt in all corners of the globe.
Hong Kong authorities Thursday ordered all primary schools in the city to be closed for two weeks after the first cluster of local swine flu cases was found in the Chinese territory.
Meanwhile in Germany, a school for Japanese youngsters in the western city of Duesseldorf was closed after 27 children tested positive for the virus.
And in Australia, four swine flu victims were admitted to intensive care wards Thursday.
The last flu pandemic came after an outbreak of the H3N2 viral strain from 1968-69, which originated in Hong Kong, and went on to kill up to 2 million people. -Additional reporting by AFP