Swine flu virus remains stable in south

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina has the most swine flu deaths outside the United States, but the virus is still killing fewer people than normal seasonal flu — good news for a world waiting to see how it evolves in the southern winter.

And despite fears that the virus will mutate and turn more deadly, genetic sequencing shows this influenza remains virtually identical to what is circulating in the U.S. and Mexico, making it more likely that a single vaccine can work around the world.

With more than a month still to go in the southern winter flu season, swine flu infections have peaked in Argentina. Doctor visits by people with flu symptoms have declined sharply. Hospital beds are available for the first time in weeks.

The A-H1N1 virus has probably spread so widely now that there are fewer susceptible people left to infect, flu experts say. And while the global epidemic is still in its early stages, there have been no signs of resistance to antiviral drugs in Argentina, so it’s possible that Tamiflu will remain effective in patients who get timely treatment.

The bad news: Young healthy people are getting sicker and dying more often than other age groups, just like they are elsewhere in the world.

“Compared to other influenzas, the death toll won’t be any greater, but we are probably going to see a much greater impact on the young,” said Dr. Vilma Savy, who runs the respiratory virus service at Argentina’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Argentina is among several countries that stopped publishing its death toll. Health Minister Juan Manzur called it misleading, since only serious cases get tested. But a survey of provincial reports found at least 248 swine flu deaths. That’s high compared to the 353 confirmed deaths in the United States, which has seven times more people, and far higher than any of Argentina’s South American neighbors.

Dr. Elsa Baumeister, who is coordinating the institute’s swine flu response, says it’s too early to relax.

“The numbers are still quite raw,” she said. “We have to be careful.”

Manzur estimates more than 100,000 Argentines have swine flu right now — a number Baumeister believes is quite conservative. That would result in a mortality rate of less than 0.2 percent, well below Argentina’s death rate of 0.27 percent from seasonal flu last year.

Meanwhile, with winter only months away in the Northern Hemisphere, wealthy countries have already reserved vast quantities of vaccines and antiviral drugs for their citizens. Many fear the developing world will be left out, and can ill afford to buy the expensive drugs in any case.

Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez, wants the World Health Organization to guarantee their availability to poorer countries — and to enlist labs in Argentina and Brazil to help produce swine flu vaccines.

“We’re confronting a situation in which the needs of millions of people cannot be subordinated to economic interests,” Fernandez declared at a South American trade summit last week.

The two Argentine strains sequenced so far — taken from a gravely ill patient and another who hardly suffered — were isolated at the institute’s level 3 biohazard laboratory — one of very few in Latin America capable of handling the world’s most dangerous pathogens. The lab is now dedicated to swine flu, confirming 300 or more infections a day.

Few Argentines wear masks now, but many remain wary. Absenteeism is expected to be so high when schools reopen Monday in Buenos Aires that Manzur vowed to send social workers to the homes of children who don’t show up. Brazil also extended its winter school holiday, but swine flu fears are keeping millions of students there at home as well.

Some cherished traditions have suffered. In a culture where male and female friends alike greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, people keep a wary distance. Many won’t even share their mate, the omnipresent herbal drink that Argentines usually pass around and sip through a common metal straw.

“Only with family and close friends,” rancher Julio Fernandez said as he shared a large mate while tending to his prize bull at La Rural, Argentina’s largest annual agricultural fair. “It’s a symbol of friendship — you can’t take that away — but you also have to be careful with this influenza.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Fatal 2-car crash closes Highway 99 in Lynnwood

Police closed off Highway 99 between 188th Street SW and 196th Street SW while they investigated.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Most Read