Can something like an unknown swine flu affect financial market? One need only ask Hong Kong, and the rest of Asia during the SARS outbreak. It nearly crippled the surrounding economies. AirAsia could weather oil prices above $100, but the SARS outbreak nearly drove the company to collapse. So, it is best to keep a close watch on the flu outbreak as it seems to be spreading beyond Mexico. The Obama administration declared a public-health emergency with 20 cases confirmed in the U.S., including eight in New York, and said that there are likely to be more illnesses. China and Russia made plans to quarantine anyone with symptoms of the virus. Asian airports used a device to test arriving passengers for fever.
Russia banned meat imports from Mexico and several U.S. states, although World Health Organization officials said there is no sign the flu spreads by contact with meat. A WHO panel will convene Tuesday to consider whether to raise its global pandemic alert. In Geneva, World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan warned that the virus had the potential to cause a pandemic, but cautioned that it was too early to tell whether it would erupt into a global outbreak.
Only one of the 20 U.S. patients has required hospitalization, none had antiviral treatment, and there have been no fatalities. In Mexico, officials have confirmed 20 deaths as due to the new flu and believe 61 more deaths probably were. New cases of the flu, which is taking its heaviest toll in young adults, were seen outside Mexico City, the city that's been hardest hit.
Exactly how the disease is spread remains a mystery, though it is known to be able to move from one human being to another. The virus is made up of genetic material from swine, bird and human viruses. Often, it triggers only mild symptoms.
Stockpiles of Australian developed antiviral drug Relenza are being prepared for use around the world by governments in the global effort to combat the outbreak of swine flu. The US government announced overnight that it would release a quarter of its stockpile of Relenza and the other anti-viral drug Tamiflu after 20 cases of the flu were confirmed there, while other countries are expected to follow if further cases are confirmed. The death toll in Mexico alone now stands at 103, Reuters reported.
Relenza was developed by Melbourne-based company Biota and has been licensed to global pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline, which produces the inhalant at sites including its plant at Boronia, in Melbourne's east. Shares in Biota, which collects a 7% royalty from sales, shot up 67 cents, or 77%, or 62, to $1.54 this morning.
Authorities around the world are getting ready to tap into their stockpiles of Relenza and the Roche-produced Tamiflu to combat the outbreak of the disease, which emerged from Mexico at the weekend.Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, and Relenza, or zanamivir, are both recommended drugs for seasonal flu and have been shown to work against viral samples of the new disease.
"Anti-viral drugs for seasonal influenza are available in some countries and effectively prevent and treat the illness,'' the World Health Organisation said in a statement over the weekend. The WHO said recent samples of swine flu were resistant to another class of anti-flu drug known as adamantanes, but were "sensitive to'' Tamiflu and Relenza.
Spanish health authorities are investigating seven cases of possible swine flu in people who returned from Mexico in recent days. New Zealand officials said that 10 students "likely" had been infected with the disease after a school trip to Mexico. Canada recorded four cases in Nova Scotia and two in British Columbia, in people with some link to recent travel to Mexico.
Mexican health authorities said the death toll from the new strain of A/H1N1 swine flu remains at 20, and they are continuing to investigate whether more than 1,000 others were infected with the mysterious bug, which attacked in three geographically diverse areas of the country and is taking its heaviest toll in young adults.
p/s photos: Kibby Lau