A month ago we here in Chile thought we were in good shape. As the numbers of AH1N1—then called Swine Flu—soared in the US and Mexico, Chile remained flu-free. How things change in a month’s time.
The latest update from the Ministry of Health (6PM on Thursday, May 28 ) reports 199 confirmed cases, 2 serious, no deaths. Almost all of the cases are confined to the Metropolitan Region (Santiago), and the majority those affected are school-age children with mild cases; many in fact are asymptomatic.
It is important to bear in mind that it is winter here in Chile and we are in the midst of the normal flu season. Furthermore, Santiago is prone to significantly high amounts—oh who are we kidding—let’s just be honest and say disgusting—amounts of air pollution during the winter months. We usually get some respite when it rains, but because this is an abnormally dry winter, the air quality is much worse than normal, further adding to situations of respiratory distress and apparently lowering resistance to illness.The Ministry has stated that 90% of the flu cases reported in Chile have been defined as AH1N1 and that this strain is replacing seasonal flu.
There have been no deaths to date, although two severe cases have been reported. Both patients—one in Santiago and one in Puerto Montt—are connected to artificial respirators.
The first and most widely discussed serious case is that of a 38-year-old woman who is currently in a Santiago hospital suffering from Catastrophic Respiratory Failure. The severity of systems in a woman thought otherwise healthy originally baffled the authorities, but it was later discovered that she had been following an alternative diet that involves taking Candlenut (Aleurites moluccana), also known as Kukui and Indian Walnut (Nuez de la India in Spanish). This Asian plant has been used medicinally for centuries, although it is known to have toxic properties. Ingesting sustained doses over a period of time as a diet not only lowered her caloric intake to dangerous levels (one source said 600–800 calories per day), but also altered her immune system and placed her at particular risk for this virus. The second severe case is a man in Puerto Montt who has presented bilateral pneumonia.
Latest Governmental Actions
New actions taken this week including announcing that public schools will not close their doors and that more effective hand-washing campaigns will be implemented in the schools. Liquid soap will now be provided in all school bathrooms (flip that around and the logic implies that there was no soap before… which, by the way, is not at all unusual in public places).
The health screening procedures in the airports (thermal scanners, etc.) will be removed from Chile’s ports of entry as of June 1, citing that the virus has already established itself within the country and further screening is therefore ineffective.
The World Health Organization figures as of May 28, 2009:
15,510 cases worldwide in 53 countries with 99 deaths.
Current Top 10:
US 7927 / 11 deaths
Mexico 4910 / 85
Canada 1118 / 2
Chile 165 (**now 199)
**The number of cases reported in the UK has recently surpassed the number in Chile, which since dropped from fifth to sixth place in reported cases worldwide.
The Original Posts for Swine Flu in Chile:
May 22, 2009: Swine Flu in Chile Part 3: Update on Chile
April 29, 2009: Swine Flu in Chile Part 2: Update on Chile
April 28, 2009: Swine Flu in Chile Part 1: So far, so good
For a Related Post, see:
May 29, 2009: AH1N1 in Chile, a Scientist’s Perspective