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WHO worries about swine flu deaths with no underlying illness

Hand-washing, masks, quarantine keep viruses at bay
Simple, low-cost measures such as hand-washing, wearing masks and quarantining infected patients provide a good shield against the spread of flu and other respiratory viruses, a study published on Wednesday said. Doctors led by Tom Jefferson, a professor in the Acute Respiratory Infections Group at the Cochrane Collaboration in Rome, carried out an overview of 59 published trials into protective measures against these microbes. The pathogens included the ordinary cold virus, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus and the influenza virus, but not the current H1N1 pandemic strain. The trials had widely-ranging formats but essentially looked at the number of people who were infected when protective measures were implemented, as compared to the number who fell sick when there was no such protection. Vaccines and antiviral drugs were not included in these studies. In hospital settings, regular hand-washing -- more than 10 times a day -- and the use of masks, gloves and surgical gowns were each effective against spreading respiratory virus, but were especially useful when combined, according to the paper. Hygiene measures in the home, targeted particularly at younger children, also helped prevent transmission. "Perhaps this is because younger children are least capable of hygienic behaviour and have longer-lived infections and greater social contact, thereby acting as portals of infection into the household," the authors said. Two studies found that isolating potentially infected individuals was also effective. But the review uncovered only limited evidence that much-touted "N95" surgical masks are better than simple face masks. N95 masks are more uncomfortable and more expensive and can also cause skin irritation, it found. The team admitted it was hard in some cases to draw a generalised picture, given the diversity of the studies and frequent sketchiness of the data. Even so, some simple measures have high potential for reducing the toll from a viral respiratory epidemic, it said. "Vaccines work best in those who are universally considered least to need them -- namely, healthy adults. Antivirals may be harmful and their benefits depend on the identification of the agent," it said. "But physical interventions are effective, safe, flexible, universally applicable and relatively cheap." The paper is published online by the British Medical Journal (
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Sept 22, 2009
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it was worried that up to a quarter of the fatal swine flu cases in the Western Pacific were patients with no underlying medical condition.

By September 19, an estimated 25 percent of the 352 death cases reported in the region had no prior medical problems, the WHO announced at its Western Pacific annual conference in Hong Kong.

"That worries us very much. We are looking into it," Takeshi Kasai, the organisation's regional adviser on communicable disease surveillance and response, told the media on the sidelines of the conference.

In other regions the proportion of swine flu fatalities with no underlying medical condition ranged from 20 to 50 percent, he said.

Kasai said one of the more plausible hypotheses virologists had come up with was that the virus replicated more rapidly in those patients.

He said that the WHO was also concerned that young adults were dying of swine flu, while small children and elderly people tend to be the main groups that succumb to seasonal influenza.

The West Pacific region covers 37 countries and extends from China and Mongolia to Australia, New Zealand and French Polynesia.

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Swine flu vaccine production lags as death toll mounts
Geneva (AFP) Sept 18, 2009
Production of swine flu vaccines will fall "substantially" short of the amount needed to protect the global population, the World Health Organisation warned Friday as the pandemic death toll rose. "Current supplies of pandemic vaccine are inadequate for a world population in which virtually everyone is susceptible to infection by a new and readily contagious virus," WHO director general ... read more

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