April 30, 2009

Honduras: First case of swine flu in San Pedro Sula

swine flu, HondurasProtecting from swine flu
Image: La Prensa, Honduras

Honduran health officials have reported the first case of Influenza A in San Pedro Sula. The analysis will be sent for confirmation to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, USA, as Honduras does not have the technology to determine the subclassification.

Online newpaper Proceso Digital accused the Honduran government of covering up two confirmed cases of swine flu in La Ceiba, Honduras, based on a report of an unnamed public health official who said that he has not been authorized by the government to give out information.

swine flu, HondurasThe two suspected cases of swine flu (la influenza porcina) were reported in La Ceiba yesterday. One is an American who arrived here on Saturday from the US as part of a medical brigade team. The other is a Honduran woman who lives in a colonia near us, just outside of central La Ceiba who had recently visited with someone who had traveled from Mexico. Specimens have been sent to the central laboratory in Tegucigalpa and it was reported that the results would take at least three days.

Proceso Digital reported that the procedure in this case is to test for Influenza A. If the results are negative, swine flu is ruled out. If the results are positive, the specimen is sent to the CDC for confirmation. Needless to say, this procedure is going to result in significant delays in reporting actual statistics, just as it does with dengue
(a common tropical disease in Honduras).

On April 29, La Prensa reported an additional eight suspected cases have been reported in Puerto Cortés and five in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Eleven of the 15 patients have recently arrived from Mexico, one from Guatemala, and one from the US. Names of the patients are included in the above linked article. La Prensa also has a map showing locations of suspected cases but I don't know whether it will be reliably updated. The numbers are a moving target, with two additional cases reported in El Progreso on April 30. While some 9-12 of the original suspected cases have been determined not to be swine flu, new suspected cases are being added daily.

The first suspected case of swine flu in Honduras and at least four others since then are people who have been deported from Mexico. Honduran officials have asked both Mexico and the US to stop deporting Honduras back to Honduras during this crisis.

swine flu, HondurasThe largest public hospital in San Pedro has set up a tent area outside to attend to suspected cases. The hospital is out of anti-virals, but the Health Department has requested L.250 million (US $13.2 million) from congress to purchase supplies, medicine, and other necessities. Pharmacies are reporting shortages of drugs, masks, and disposable gloves. A pharmacy here in La Ceiba said that the drugs would not be available until the government purchases and distributes them.

San Pedro regional director of health says that it is time to cancel all public events and recommends that employees in airports and ports wear gloves and surgical masks. "Better that it is said that we took exaggerated measures than to have problems that get out of control." However, labor leaders have said that nothing is going to stop the May 1 (Day of the Workers) marches which are expected to draw tens of thousands of people. The government has not taken an official stance.

The president of the medical association of Honduras reported, "Our position is very clear that people should avoid public events," a recommendation made by the World Health Organization as well. Persons arriving at Honduran airports, seaports, and land entry points are being screened in a coordinated effort by Immigration and Health departments, but flights from Mexico are still being allowed. The government's response has been categorized as 'erratic'.

Newspaper reports are not encouraging and information is often conflicting. While the Minister of Health reports that there are no confirmed cases in Central America and that the government is taking all measures (whatever that might be), the newspapers report that there are no medicines and no resources to fight an epidemic and that there are two confirmed cases of swine flu in Costa Rica. Some of the people don't believe there is an epidemic and others believe it comes from eating pork.

As of this moment, no public activities or schools have been canceled. The mayor of Tegucigalpa, capital and largest citiy of Honduras with a population of more than 1.5 million, declared the city to be in a yellow alert. Political squabbling ensued, with COPECO and others claiming that the mayor does not have the right to declare an alert. The opposition party plans to distribute masks.

The Honduran statistics are tough to pin down. At this moment, each newspaper is reporting different numbers. Reports change almost hourly. To keep up to date with the latest Honduran news, here is a list of the major newspapers' websites:

La Prensa (generally has the most information)
Proceso Digital (sometimes has the most current updates)
La Tribuna
El Heraldo
El Tiempo
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