The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern over the spread of a new strain of swine flu in Mexico and the United States, and Philippine officials are now enforcing stricter measures to prevent the entry of the virus into the country.
At least 60 people have died and about a 1,000 more have fallen ill in Mexico because of a new strain of swine flu virus that spread this week.
The virus has reached the United States with eight confirmed cases in Texas and California.
Seventy-five students are being treated in New York state for flu-like symptoms.
The WHO is highly concerned about the outbreak of the new A/H1N1 swine virus strain, which combines genetic material from birds, swine and humans.
"We still have lots of information that needs to be clarified in terms of transmissibility of the virus and exactly how many people are affected, and we are still waiting for our laboratory results for Mexico but for several factors, this is an unusual enough event for us to be very concerned," said Gregory Hartl, WHO spokesman.
The Department of Health (DOH) in Manila is preparing for the possible spread of the virus in Asia and the Philippines.
Dr. Eric Tayag of the National Epidemiology Center-DOH said the swine influenza can be transmitted through the air or through direct contact with an infected subject.
Transmission can be from pig-to-human and human-to-human.
That it is why the DOH has instructed the Bureau of Quarantine to be on the lookout for arriving airline passengers with flu-like symptoms.
Tayag said the symptoms are like that of seasonal flu such as fever and sore throat.
The DOH has also alerted its hospitals and has prepared anti-viral medicines in case of an epidemic.
The swine flu cannot be acquired by eating infected pork.
"As a precautionary measure, I ordered BAI [Bureau of Animal Industry] to strengthen the monitoring of all the ports of entry to prevent the entry of any hogs/pork from Mexico and US,” said Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Arthur Yap.
But the DA has ordered its concerned agencies to ban the importation of hogs from the US and Mexico.
The DA will also augment quarantine checkpoints in provinces to further prevent movement of sick pigs.
"As of today, there's no ongoing outbreak of swine flu in the Philippines. I've also ordered the BAI to lift the restriction in the use of swine influenza vaccine and encourage hog farmers to regularly vaccinate their pigs (herd) against swine influenza as the vaccine will be readily available," Yap said.
The DA will also lift restrictions on the use of swine influenza vaccine in local hog farms.
Hog raisers more prone
While the new swine flu virus has yet to be detected in the country, health officials are already advising the public to take extra precaution to avoid getting infected.
Health officials said the flu is commonly transferred through sneezing and coughing, and that hog raisers are more prone to acquiring swine flu.
The officials are quick to clarify though that the virus cannot be transmitted by eating pork.
But they said swine flu is difficult to detect since it initially manifests as a fever.
In Mexico, where the latest swine flu has been detected, the fever had developed into pneumonia.
Experts are focusing its research on the A/H1N1, the newest strain of swine flu virus.
“Pigs are efficient mixing vessels, pingahahalo nya yung swine avian and human virus,” Tayag said.
Although there are available vaccines for some swine flu strains, the US government is working to discover vaccines for all strains.
Health officials are reminding everyone to take precautionary measures so as not to get the virus. Among these are covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing, using a face mask, improving your resistance, and avoiding travel to areas where swine flu has been reported. – reports from JOEY VILLARAMA and WHENG HIDALGO, ABS-CBN News; with Reuters