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Published: Monday April 27, 2009 MYT 11:52:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 27, 2009 MYT 6:48:01 PM

Swine flu: Health Ministry advises against travel to Canada, Mexico and US states (Update 4)

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has advised Malaysians against travelling to Canada, Mexico and selected US states where there have been reports of swine flu infection.

Its minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the United States had recorded 20 cases of influenza-like illness in New York (eight cases), California (seven), Texas (two), Kansas (two) and Ohio (one).

Mexico has reported 1,149 cases with 71 deaths, out of which 18 cases were confirmed to be caused by the swine influenza A/H1N1 virus. Canada has reported four swine flu cases.

“So far, no deaths have been reported in these two countries,” he said, referring to Canada and the United States.

“Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not called for any sanction in travel or trade with those affected countries, I would like to advise all Malaysians against travelling to these places,” he told reporters after witnessing the presentation of the Joint Commission International award to Prince Court Medical Centre here Monday.

Liow said the ministry had also alerted both public and private medical practitioners to report to the district health office any patient they might have treated for influenza-like illness or severe pneumonia symptoms and who had a history of travelling to the above destinations after April 17.

Those who test positive for the swine flu virus would be quarantined and treated at Sungai Buloh Hospital, he said.

The ministry also urged the public not to worry about the influenza outbreak in Mexico, Canada or the United States as the health authorities there had implemented various measures to contain the infection and prevent its spread.

“Malaysia also has a national influenza pandemic preparedness plan, which we put in place during the SARS outbreak,” he said, referring to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome global pandemic in 2002-2003.

“I understand there are have been various e-mail and SMSes circulating about the number of deaths and reported cases, but I stress that the ministry’s statistics are the latest from WHO,” he said, adding that the ministry would be issuing statements from time to time to keep the public informed about the infection.

Liow said the ministry was also mulling getting vaccinations against swine flu for pig farmers and personnel from other frontliner agencies like nurses, doctors and the police.

“But the problem is we are not sure of the strain. We also don’t know if the seasonal vaccination will be able to protect farmers, nurses or tourists from getting infected with the virus,” he said, adding that his ministry would be holding a meeting with all agencies including the Veterinarian Services Department to “cover all the issues.”

Liow also clarified that it would not be possible to get infected with swine flu from eating pork as the transmission of the virus was currently airborne.

Temperature scans
Thermal scanners will also be placed at international airports within the next two to three days to speed up the screening process for swine influenza, Liow said.

Seven new scanners which enable mass screening of passengers would also be procured, he said, adding that the old ones used during the bird flu and SARS outbreaks a few years ago only allowed single screening.

Currently, doctors and medical staffs at the airports are checking each passengers’ body temperature manually. The screening process began Monday at all entry points.

“Passengers will only have to walk through the new machines and their body temperature would be determined.

“Tourists are guests. We do not want to give them any difficulties but at the same time, we must protect our people from the infectious virus.

“We hope they will understand and cooperate with us," he told reporters after visiting the screening area at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Monday.

The airport has designated a place at the arrival hall to screen all passengers travelling from Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Liow said for time being, compulsory screening was only being conducted on passengers and crews travelling from Latin America countries.

For the others, he said they only have to fill in a Health Declaration Form about their health status for the past 10 days.

He said the passengers would be asked if they have been to any place with local transmission of swine flu or been in touch with a person suspected to have been infected.

They would also be asked if they have high fever, cough or breathing difficulties, said Liow.

“If they answer yes in any of the columns, they have to go for an examination to check their body temperature, breathing and coughing condition.

“Those who pass will be allowed to enter Malaysia. Otherwise, we will send them for further examination including a blood test,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture and Agro Based Industries Ministry has made it compulsory for all pig farmers in the nation to immediately report to the Veterinary Dept if any of their workers or livestock shows signs of coughing or runny nose, said its minister Datuk Noh Omar.

In JOHOR BARU, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin urged the public not to panic, saying the Health Ministry has in place protocols to prevent the disease from spreading to Malaysia.

He said the protocol included tightening surveillance at all entry points into Malaysia via airports and ports, and also at border crossings, reports NELSON BENJAMIN.

“We have used this protocol for avian flu outbreaks in the past. We may have to tighten some of these procedures,” he said, adding that the Health Ministry would work closely with other relevant agencies including the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries Ministry to monitor the situation.

Muhyddin added that proper awareness and education would also have to be provided to the public as many people were not aware of the disease.

“Many people are hearing about this disease for the first time and we have to educate them on how to play their part to prevent it from spreading,” he said after closing the Malaysia Unit Trust Week here Monday.

Muhyddin said that Malaysia would work closely with the WHO and other international networks to get the necessary information and also to take precautionary measures.

Related Stories:
Suspected swine flu cases in Mexico rise to 1,614
Swine flu fears close some schools in US
Official: Three more NZ students tested for swine flu
World govts race to contain swine flu outbreak
Malaysia does not import Mexican pork
Passengers from US to be screened
Immigration Dept waiting for word from ministry

Useful Links:
World Health Organization: www.who.int
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov
Homeland Security Department: www.dhs.gov
WHO swine flu page: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/index.html

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