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H1N1 virus spreads in Asia, protection wobbly
Thu May 21, 2009 2:48am EDT
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By Isabel Reynolds and Yoko Nishikawa
TOKYO (Reuters) - The spread of the new H1N1 virus in Asia showed no signs of slowing on Thursday as new infections were confirmed in the capital cities of Tokyo and Beijing, while Japan reported a spike in its total number of cases.
In the United States, health authorities reported the country's ninth death from the virus, that of a 13-year-old boy in Arizona who was "medically compromised."
Most of the deaths from this essentially swine flu virus have been in Mexico, occurring mostly in people with underlying medical problems such as obesity and diabetes.
But while it has killed nobody so far in Asia, its grip appeared to tighten on a region that has battled the H5N1 bird flu virus and SARS over the past 10 years.
Japan reported 272 confirmed infections by midday on Thursday, including a 16-year-old female high school student in Tokyo, who had recently returned from New York.
About 4,500 schools, mostly in the western prefectures of Osaka and Hyogo about 400 km (250 miles) from Tokyo, have closed their doors until the end of the week. The local government in neighboring Shiga prefecture, which also confirmed its first case on Wednesday, was also urging its schools to follow suit.
In China, authorities confirmed a second case of H1N1 in Beijing, a 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian student. This case would be the fifth nationwide, but officials said the other patients have either been given a clean bill of health or are recovering.
There was also a jump in infections in Australia, which confirmed its sixth case, involving a Mexican woman who tested positive for the virus while visiting the country.
Elsewhere, Chile has become one of the most affected countries in South America. Sixteen children and adults have tested positive to the H1N1 virus and the number will most probably continue to grow, Health Minister Alvaro Erazo said on Wednesday.
HOLES IN ASIA'S FIGHT
However, this novel virus appears to be mild so far.
Japanese Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said on Wednesday a study on 43 cases in Kobe city in Hyogo prefecture suggested it was behaving like seasonal flu and not everyone with the new flu needed hospitalization.
Japan is also considering drawing up new plans to deal with the disease, including winding down strict health checks at international airports at the end of the week, which had been imposed to try to buy time before an outbreak in the country.
But that is not a stance other places in Asia would readily adopt. Last week, Hong Kong's health secretary York Chow asked the United States to screen outgoing air travelers to stop spreading the new H1N1 flu virus abroad.
"Our stance remains the same. People should delay their travel plans if they have any flu-like symptoms," a Hong Kong government spokeswoman said. Continued...
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