Travellers back from Mexico could be SA's first swine flu cases

2009-04-30 00:00

Pretoria - A woman from Groot Brakrivier near Mossel Bay may be South Africa's first person to have caught swine flu in Mexico.

Susan Kok (58) and her husband Dan (63) were still at home yesterday after having been requested by health officials to stay away from other people.

However, the chances of Kok's suspected diagnosis being confirmed are slim, as the test sample was apparently not properly transported to pathologists.

The couple arrived back in South Africa on Saturday after a holiday of nearly a month in Mexico.

"We visited all the places [including Mexico City, Cancun, Chihuahua and the Copper Canyon] that they talk about so much on television," she said yesterday. "And it was fantastic."

Kok said she started coughing in Mexico, "but did not think it was serious".

"We rode on a lot of trains and buses. We were even at the airport in Mexico City three times and I thought the fluey feeling was just air sickness."

She said they saw some people with masks on, but heard about the flu only after their son-in-law sent them an SMS when they arrived at the airport in Johannesburg.

She said her family insisted that they go and see a doctor, who took a smear from her throat.

Dr Lucille Blumberg of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said at a media conference in Pretoria yesterday that two suspected cases have been reported to the NICD.

The Kok couple's contacts are being followed up on.

According to Blumberg, it will never be possible to confirm whether Kok had swine flu, as the smear from her throat was not transported in the correct medium for analysis.

She said virus samples are usually obtained through a smear in the throat and must be packaged in a special substance so the virus survives until it arrives at a laboratory.

The NICD was also notified of another suspected case in Gauteng yesterday afternoon. The person apparently also visited Mexico, but at the time of going to press it appeared that it was "unlikely" that it was swine flu.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta in the U.S., a Bloemfontein businessman is awaiting results of tests to determine whether his "bronchitis" may be swine flu.

Geoff Greyling (43) and his colleague Johnny Tyrannis spent a few days holidaying in Mexico last week.

They decided to fly to Washington when they heard about the swine flu outbreak.

Greyling was already feeling unwell and wore a face mask when they caught a connecting flight from Cancun to Washington via Atlanta on Tuesday. He said by e-mail yesterday that he felt increasingly ill during the flight and kept the mask on when they landed at Atlanta.

"An unbelievably rude official wanted to know from me whether I was feeling unwell.

"I said yes. It was very humiliating and at one stage I felt like a criminal.

"I was escorted to a room where I was questioned by a doctor from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We were then taken to a hospital by ambulance, accompanied by two ambulance service workers."

Greyling was examined three more times by doctors, who took blood samples and smears.

"I was then informed that they thought I just had bronchitis and not swine flu, but they want us to stay until the tests have been done.

"It could take days. We've been placed in quarters that remind us of an old, cheap motel," he wrote.

SA AIRPORTS: fever scanners to be used

PRETORIA - A thermal image detection system that can help to identify possible carriers of swine flu is in place at Lanseria Airport. Two similar machines are being installed at O.R. Tambo Airport.

Masks will be available at airports, but will be handed out only when necessary.

Health director-general Thami Mseleku said yesterday preparations to deal with possible cases are in place. All hospitals in South Africa have been given guidelines on how to handle suspected cases. South Africa will also step in if a neighbouring country needs help. - Sapa.

Fifa: 'monitoring crisis ahead of Confed Cup'

JOHANNESBURG - World football's governing body said yesterday that it is monitoring the outbreak of swine flu that has sparked alerts around the globe just six weeks before the Confederations Cup.

"We are monitoring the situation and we hope it will be under control before the seven teams are moving from their countries to South Africa for the Confederations Cup," said Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke.

"We will cancel only if we feel that we have to. If there are no risks and if we have all the necessary assurances, the competition will go ahead," he said. - Sapa-AFP.

Alert level 5: imminent risk of flu pandemic

GENEVA - World Health Organisation director-general Dr Margaret Chan raised the pandemic threat awareness level to five last night, meaning the world is at imminent risk of a pandemic from H1N1 swine flu.

Level six is the final stage, a pandemic - a global epidemic of a new and deadly disease.

Chan said she hoped to reassure governments, but urged them to prepare for the worst.

"It is really all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic."

Pharmaceutical companies should ramp up manufacturing, she said. - Reuters.

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