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Some measures won’t help prevent flu pandemic – report

2A woman talks on a phone through a protective mask while waiting for a health check at a hospital in Hanoi August 4, 2009.

Some measures won’t help prevent flu pandemic – report

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Closing schools, stopping large gatherings and other such measures are unlikely to do much to prevent the spread of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, a team of experts predicted on Wednesday.

They said pandemic closely resembles the pandemic of H2N2 influenza in 1957 when it quickly became apparent that there was little officials could do to stop it.

“Efforts to mitigate it were futile,” Brooke Courtney Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said in a telephone interview.

Federal officials are expected to announce their recommendations for school closures on Friday. Local school districts and states usually make the decision to close schools, but they look to the federal government for advice.

At the height of the epidemic in May, more than 700 schools closed in the United States, according to the Department of Education.

In Mexico, where the pandemic started, officials closed government offices and schools for around two weeks in April and May, and encouraged businesses to close.

H1N1 is still circulating and, just as influenza did in 1957, it is dominating the mixture of viruses in the southern hemisphere’s flu season going on now.

In its latest update last week the World Health Organization reported 162,230 confirmed cases and 1,154 deaths. But flu experts said this probably reflected only a fraction of the true count as not every patient can be diagnosed with a lab test.

Experts expect the flu will pick up activity in the northern hemisphere’s autumn and the WHO predicted one third of the world’s population — two billion people — will eventually be infected.

TOO WIDESPREAD

Governments are taking different approaches to slowing the spread of the virus. Last month, British experts on the spread of disease said closing schools at the first sign of a new pandemic might delay the worst so health officials can prepare, but cannot prevent the spread of the disease.

Writing in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Courtney, Dr. D. A. Henderson and colleagues said it appears that the new H1N1 is now too widespread to try to stop.

“In 1957 it was decided pretty early on that efforts to quarantine or isolate people would not be effective,” Courtney said.

As happened this year, the virus first appeared in the northern hemisphere’s spring. It worsened in the fall. “The opening of schools in September appeared to be a major factor in initiating community epidemics,” the researchers wrote.

“Schools were not closed for the purpose of trying to control the spread of disease. They were closed because too many teachers or administrators or students were out,” Courtney said.

In 1957, 25 percent of the U.S. population became ill. Global health experts estimate two million people died.

“What we saw was that the federal government took very practical steps to deal with the expected pandemic in the fall in 1957,” Courtney said. “They understood that, yes, it was expected that there would be a lot of people who got sick.”

In 1957 it took months to make a vaccine and then it was not very effective, the researchers found.

Drug companies have started making vaccine against H1N1 swine flu. But the recommended population of 160 million people, including healthcare workers and pregnant women, cannot be fully immunized until December, experts estimate. Two doses are needed for full protection.

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Thai capital to close 435 schools to halt H1N1 spread

in.reuters.com

Thai capital to close 435 schools to halt H1N1 spread

BANGKOK – july 14 – The Thai capital will close 435 schools for five days to prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Thailand has reported 4,057 cases of H1N1, commonly known as swine flu, since mid-May and 24 deaths from the virus, 10 of them people from Bangkok.

“We will conduct a thorough cleaning of the schools during the closure to prevent further outbreaks here,” Ponksak Semsan, permanent secretary-general of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, said in a statement, announcing the closure from Wednesday.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that the H1N1 virus was “unstoppable” and gave drug makers full go-ahead to manufacture vaccines.

The WHO raised the global flu alert to the highest level on June 11, declaring a pandemic was under way from the H1N1 strain.

Although the new disease has so far caused only mild symptoms in most patients, more than 400 people have died globally and experts fear the death toll could surge without a widespread immunisation programme.

Thailand’s government agreed during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to place an order for two million doses of a vaccine for H1N1, with delivery expected by December.

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China quake survivors spend second night in freezing cold

Battling bitingly cold weather and a lack of oxygen, rescue workers clawed with their bare hands through the rubble of homes and schools toppled by the 6.9 magnitude quake that hit Yushu county in Qinghai province on Wednesday.

Officials said medical teams and supplies such as tents and quilts were on their way to the zone, where doctors set up makeshift hospitals to treat victims of the deadliest quake in China in two years.

But thousands spent another night without shelter in freezing temperatures after the quake destroyed almost all the mudbrick and wooden houses in Jiegu, the local capital, and flattened schools.

“I lost my husband and I lost my house,” Gandan, a Jiegu resident, told AFP, her son and daughter at her side. All three were living in a tent with other people, with one bowl of barley to share.

“We don’t know what to do, we have no food,” she said, standing by the tent a stone’s throw from her collapsed mud and brick house.

China quake devastates stunned town

The number who perished rose to 760, including dozens of children, while 11,477 were injured, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting rescue coordinators.

The death toll is expected to rise further, with 243 still buried, and local officials say they were short of medical supplies and large digging equipment.

“The rescue job in this disaster zone faces many difficulties,” said Miao Chonggang, of the China Earthquake Administration, which is coordinating more than 7,000 rescuers.

President Hu Jintao cut short a Latin American tour and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao postponed a trip to Southeast Asia.

Hu told a news conference in Brasilia the quake was “a huge calamity which resulted in big losses of human life”.

Chinese president calls quake ‘huge calamity’

Wen on Thursday visited the quake zone, an underdeveloped area of the Tibetan plateau known as the “Roof of the World”.

“The top priority is to save people. We will never give up even if there is only a slim hope,” Wen told a meeting at the quake-relief headquarters in Yushu, according to Xinhua.

Soldiers, police and firefighters used shovels, iron bars and bare hands to dig through the mangled piles of concrete and rubble from 15,000 toppled homes.

Foreign governments offered help as international aid officials warned that the priorities would be providing shelter, medical aid, food and water and ensuring sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of Internet users have been showing their solidarity with the quake victims by posting virtual flowers in online “mourning halls” and donating to appeals, Xinhua said.

Jiegu lies around 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the provincial capital Xining, about 4,000 metres above sea level, meaning rescue workers from outside the region struggled to cope with the lack of oxygen.

The government said electricity and phone links had been restored to dozens of towns but the difficult terrain, including deep canyons, and the bitter cold and remoteness of the area were hampering rescue efforts.

Dazed survivors told harrowing stories of loved ones crushed under their homes.

“There are 10 people in my family and only four of us escaped. One of my relatives died. All the others are buried under the rubble,” Samdrup Gyatso, 17, told Xinhua after his two-storey home crumbled.

Facts on China quake zone

Among the dead were at least 66 pupils and 10 teachers, Xinhua said, quoting local authorities, as grieving parents waited for news near the ruins of the schools, where discarded school books and clothes lay.

Xinhua said a baby boy had been born in a tent near the epicentre shortly after the quake.

“It must be the first life that came to the world after the disaster,” Huang Changmei, a doctor, told the agency.

“The baby brought hope to the ruined place.”

The devastation was reminiscent of the huge quake in May 2008 in Sichuan province, where thousands of children were among 87,000 deaths when their shoddily-constructed schools collapsed.

Schoolbooks strewn in China quake rubble as children perish

Xu Mei, of the education ministry, denied a media report that around 200 children had been buried in the ruins of a primary school in Wednesday’s quake.

In Beijing, Zou Ming, the head of the government’s disaster relief department, said nearly 40,000 tents, 120,000 articles of clothing, 120,000 quilts and food were being dispatched.