Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cape Town is prepared for Swine Flu - Is Johannesburg? [Helen Zille, please save us]

SHOOT: Gauteng seems to me to be far too complacent. The media, the government, the authorities. If a Phase 5 is announced (and it's probably imminent) we are going to see a lot of people rushing around for food and facemasks. Even the news bulletins are only now putting Swine Flu first up. There needs to be a lot of heads-up information, and people should start to think about stocking up in case of a global lockdown. When there is one single swine flu case in South Africa there is likely to be an unprecedented response. Local authorities ought to behave with the sort of urgency as though this had already happened.

The topic needs to be openly discussed and regularly updated.

Wilmot James, the director of the Africa Genome Education Institute in Cape Town, said the swine flu sweeping across the world was a strain of the H1N1 type of flu virus.

"The H1N1 swine flu virus that (has) killed over 100 Mexicans is a variant of the virus that killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million individuals between 1918 and 1919," James said yesterday.

"Its present mortality rate is 2 percent of those infected.

"The Mexican swine virus is a reassembly of swine, bird and human viruses. There is no vaccine available to prevent infections. There are some treatments available to deal with symptoms, but these are of course quite useless in the face of death. The science community is working day and night to find a vaccine."

James said that "successful viruses" wanted to live off human hosts and would therefore not benefit by killing them.

However, viruses like the current swine flu strain had "a genetic configuration" that killed the host, he said.

Bromfield said people travelling to affected areas should obtain information about the situation in those places and be aware of what was going on.

He said the City of Cape Town was "very well-prepared for any outbreaks" and urged people not to panic about the risk of swine flu hitting South Africa.

Bromfield said port control authorities would need to carefully monitor people entering South Africa after being in affected areas.

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