The first case of swine flu in Europe was confirmed Monday in Spain as a top European health official warned against travel to Mexico and the United States.
Spanish health minister Trinidad Jimenez said a 23-year-old man who returned from studying in Mexico last Wednesday tested positive for the virus at a hospital in Albacete, southeastern Spain. At least 16 more cases are being treated as possible swine flu, Jimenez told a news conference. Earlier, Jimenez met with health officials to discuss Spain’s response to the crisis. “We do not have an emergency situation in Spain, but we are working to prevent any possible development, and we are taking action in accord with the World Health Organization,” she said. Spain’s Ministry of Health has urged travelers recently returned from Mexico and the U.S. to be on the lookout for symptoms of the virus, including fever, coughing and respiratory problems. The European Union’s health commissioner Monday called on people to avoid traveling to both Mexico and the U.S. amid growing concern that the swine flu virus, which has been blamed for at least 103 deaths in Mexico as well as hundreds more cases of infection, could become a global pandemic. People “should avoid traveling to Mexico or the U.S. unless it is very urgent for them,” Andorra Vassiliou said. Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Vassiliou’s warning was “not warranted.” U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that the outbreak was a “cause for concern” but not a “cause for alarm.” He said the federal government was “closely monitoring” emerging cases and had declared a public health emergency as a “precautionary tool” to ensure the availability of adequate resources to combat the spread of the virus. The World Health Organization has described the outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern.” The U.S. has confirmed 20 cases of the disease while Canada confirmed its first case Sunday. Watch how public health officials grade phases of pandemic alerts »
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Israel and New Zealand, where 22 students and three teachers were quarantined after returning for a three-week trip to Mexico, are also investigating suspected cases. South Korea says it will test travelers arriving from the U.S. Swine flu is a contagious respiratory disease that usually affects pigs. It is caused by a type-A influenza virus. The current strain is a new variation of an H1N1 virus, which is a mix of human and animal versions. Learn more about swine flu and how to treat it » When the flu spreads person-to-person, instead of from animals to humans, it can continue to mutate, making it harder to treat or fight off because people have no natural immunity.
MayoClinic.com: Influenza (flu)
The symptoms are similar to common flu. They include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes around another person. People can become infected by touching something with the flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.
Researchers are trying to determine how easily it can jump from person to person. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director-general, said it was too early to predict whether there will be a mild or serious pandemic. iReport.com: Do you think we should be worried about swine flu In 1968, a “Hong Kong” flu pandemic killed about 1 million people worldwide. And in 1918, a “Spanish” flu pandemic killed as many as 100 million people.