Category Archives: Health

Health issues in Chile

Swine Flu in Chile: Update Part 3

This story has been updated. For more current information, see:

May 28, 2009: AH1N1 (Swine Flu) in Chile Part 4

For earlier versions, see
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

Swine Flu in Chile Update Part 3

It was bound to happen. Chile is now among the world’s 41 countries with confirmed and reported cases of Swine Flu—excuse me—the Flu Once Known as Swine and Now Called Novel Human Influenza A (H1N1) (such an annoyingly long and fumbly name—I must admit, I much preferred the porcine moniker).

Despite the best of intentions, one of the outcomes of globalization, of living in this fast-paced jet-lagged world is that not only ideas, experiences, and consumer goods—but diseases as well—are transported much faster and much farther than ever before.

29 cases of A (H1N1) in Chile

Chile now has its first confirmed cases of the dreaded flu, all concentrated in the Metropolitan, Valparaíso, and O’Higgins Regions.

The first 2 cases were identified on May 17 when 2 women who returned from the Dominican Republic on the same flight presented symptoms. That number has since risen to 29. No related deaths have been reported.

Chile uses a special thermal imaging scanner to monitor all passengers entering the Arturo merino Benítez Airport in Santiago and identify anyone who may have a fever at the time of entering the country. According to the Ministry of Public Health, as of Thursday, May 21, some 39,600 people—passengers and crew—had been checked.

Much of the initial panic surrounding the virus has waned as more is learned about what it is and how it spreads. A (H1N1) appears to spread in the same manner as regular seasonal flu: through the coughs and sneezes of those who are infected. The symptoms are similar, but since it is a new strain, no vaccination is yet available for it and the general population has no natural immunity to it, so more people may fall ill.

The usual recommendations and health precautions still apply:

  • Wash your hands with soap and/or alcohol gel.
  • Avoid enclosed places and those with a high flow of people (what to do about planes? Subways? Rush hour buses? Easier said than done in an overcrowded city! See the Metro Crush)
  • Use disposable tissues and throw them away
  • Be aware of any health updates

Chile is currently in the midst of its annual early-winter flu season, and many people are affected by the usual run-of-the-mill cold symptoms (sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, cough) and flu ailments (headache, body ache, chills, fever, fatigue). The new virus may present all of these as well as possible diarrhea and vomiting.

The Center for Disease Control recommends seeking immediate medical attention should any of the following symptoms appear:

  • Fast or difficult breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

If you are in Chile and suspect that you or someone close to you is sick, call
SALUD RESPONDE: 600 360-7777
before going to a health center.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO)   11,034 cases of
A (H1N1) had been officially reported in 41 countries, including 85 deaths as of the evening of May 21, 2009.

The majority of the cases have been identified in the following countries:

United States:     5,710 cases, 8 deaths
Mexico:                 3,892 cases, 75 deaths
Canada:                     719 cases, 1 death
Japan:                        259 cases
Spain:                          111 cases
United Kingdom:   109 cases
Costa Rica:                  20 cases, 1 death
France:                         16 cases
Germany:                    14 cases
Colombia:                   12 cases

Out of curiosity, I wonder why Chile’s 29 cases weren’t mentioned? What other countries were left off this list?

For More Information:

– Chilean Health Ministry:;
– World Health Organization:
– Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
– Chilean Epidemiological Society:

**See what Leigh, at Crooked Compass, wrote about her experience in the airport**

Swine Flu Part 2: Update on Chile

An update on the Swine Flu situation in Chile:

See more recent updates posted on:

May 28, 2009: AH1N1 (Swine Flu) in Chile: Update Part 4
May 21, 2009: Swine Flu in Chile: Update Part 3
See also April 28, Part 1:  Swine Flu in Chile: so far, so good

For a Related Post, see:

May 29, 2009: AH1N1 in Chile, a Scientist’s Perspective

Swine Flu Part 2:

OK, OK, I SWEAR that Cachando Chile is not going to turn into another one of those hum-drum news blogs… I’ll post something fun again very soon, but in the meantime,  C’mon… Admit it… You’re curious, right? The whole WORLD is watching this thing… We ALL want to know where it’s going… Are you planning your face mask style (plain white? blue? decorated) Thinking about wearing gloves in the subway? Are you singing 2 rounds of Happy Birthday as you wash your hands with soap?

I think our curiosity is driven by a combination of things: there’s that oh-so-horribly-human morbidity factor, and then there’s the “Oh My God, What if it Happens to ME???” element. And then of course, there are those of us here at the ends of the Earth, in Chile, where we’re doing battle to convince the world of our non-third-world status, and some damned-flu-bug-comes-along-and-could-blow-us-all-out-of-the-water so we’re rooting for the home team (that being Chile, of course)… hoping that this wonderful enchanted land manages to steer clear of this ugly porcine beast that’s managing to wreak havoc on the world’s imagination right now. And I’m sure that I’m not the only one to feel a certain twisted pleasure in knowing that SO FAR, we’re faring better than the big guys (US, Mexico, Spain, UK, Austria,

So let’s get one thing straight right up front…. So Far… Even though the WHO (World Health Organization) has upgraded the Swine Flu to a Phase 5 Pandemic status, today, April 29, there are still no confirmed cases in Chile. 42 cases have been presented for evaluation; 16 have already been discarded, and 26 remain under study. Sixteen of those cases are in the Metropolitan Region (Santiago & surrounding area), 2 in Valparaíso, and the remainder, from north to south: Atacama (2), O’Higgins (4), Bío Bío (1), and Araucanía (1).

It is important to bear in mind that as the Southern Hemisphere is currently in transition between autumn and winter, and as such Chile is also within its normal seasonal flu period, which is predicted to peak in mid-May. The symptoms of both flu types are similar, but people who have NOT traveled to affected zones should follow the normal indications for seasonal flu.

The Chilean Ministry of Health asks the population to remain calm and not rush to Health Service Centers unless it is necessary. If a patient is experiencing high fever, respiratory difficulty, cough, and muscular pain, call the “Salud Responde” Health Response Hotline number: 600-360-7777 prior to going to a health center.

Governmental Actions:

  • Primary Attention Centers are currently being defined, with at least 1 per comuna (municipality) to evaluate patients
  • Hospital Attention: 60 hospitals have been defined in isolated zones
  • Antiviral Treatments: Of the 255,000 treatments in stock in Chile, 43,000 are currently being distributed in the public sector and 20,000 in the private sector.

The public is urged not to self-medicate; antiviral medications administered without a prescription can provoke resistance to that medication.

Health Barriers:

All international ports of entry (land, air, or sea) will continue to be closely monitored, and all of the country’s 15 regions now have a Regional Outbreak Response and Health Emergency Committee in place.

International Situation:

As of 6:00 PM today, April 29, the WHO reported that 9 countries have officially reported numerous cases of swine flu in: Mexico (1614 suspected cases, 26 confirmed, 7 deaths), USA (91 cases, 1 death), Canada (13 cases), United Kingdom (5 cases), New Zeland (3 cases), Austria (1 case), , and Israel (number of cases unknown as of this writing).

Health Response Hotline:  600-360-7777

Additional Information:

Chilean Health Ministry:  & (Spanish)
CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)  (English)

Swine flu in Chile: so far, so good

This post has been updated, see also:

May 28, 2009: AH1N1 (Swine Flu) in Chile: Update Part 4
May 22, 2009:  Swine Flu in Chile: Update Part 3
April 29, 2009: Swine Flu Part 2

For a Related Post, see:

May 29, 2009: AH1N1 in Chile, a Scientist’s Perspective

Original Post April 28, 2009: Swine flu in Chile Part 1: so far, so good

This is not the kind of post that would normally appear in Cachando Chile, but with all the furor about Swine Flu (Influenza Porcina in Spanish), this information may be useful.

The good news is that as of this writing, no cases have been confirmed in Chile. Five cases have been discarded and another 8 are being investigated. All people entering the country from Mexico and the US are being screened to prevent a local outbreak.  Like everywhere else in the world, the news is full of reports on the flu (“gripe,” pronounced GREE-pay), but I’ve yet to see any face masks on the street or any signs that daily activity has altered. Life continues as usual here in Santiago.

The US Embassy sent out a Warden Message yesterday, April 27, that included the following information:

The Government of Chile has taken measures in response to the outbreak of swine flu in the United States and Mexico. Officials of the Chilean Health Ministry have begun screening passengers arriving in Chile from the U.S. and Mexico, both by ship and by airplane, for symptoms of flu. Screening includes the use of passive infrared fever scanners.

If necessary, adult travelers arriving in the Metropolitan Region (Santiago) who are suspected of having swine flu will be transferred immediately for evaluation to¨the “Hospital del Tórax,” and minor travelers will be taken to “Hospital Calvo Mackenna,” and all travelers arriving at Regions outside the Metropolitan Region will be transferred to the tertiary care hospitals (base hospitals) in those regions.

More information on the Chilean Government measures is available in Spanish on the Ministry of Health‘s web site.

Wash your hands…with soap

I’m a hand-washer. What can I say? I like to wash my handsoften. I don’t go all Jack Nicholson about it or anything, but I confess that as I make my way among Santiago’s other 6 million people every day, I really try not to think about how many hands have gone before mine, gliding along the handrails, caressing the door knobs, clutching the subway grab-poles, counting out their money, and pinching, poking, and otherwise fondling the products in the grocery store… Y’know, if you let your imagination get away from you, the whole Howard Hughes angle starts to come right into focus—No! Stop that! Get a grip…

I’m exaggerating, of course, but all this recent talk about swine flu with its corresponding and constant “wash your hands with soap” message has had me extra aware of the issue these days… Here are a few things that have gone through my mind on the subject:

When someone in Chile says Quiero lavarme las manos, (I want to wash my hands)and they will almost always show you their hands while they say itwhat that really means is that they want to powder their nose…

Hot water:
I was at one of Santiago’s spiffy new medical centers today and had a big surprise when I went to lavarme las manosthe water was hot! As in deliciously, wonderfully warm. So what, you ask? What’s the big deal? Hot water is rare in public places.

For that matter, most homes don’t have the hot water turned on during the day either. Instead of those big 30- or 40- or 50-gallon round-the-clock water heaters we all use in the States, Chileans, like Europeans, use something called a calefont that hangs on the wall in the kitchen or bathroom and heats the water as you use it. Most people turn it on in the morning to take showers and then turn it off for the rest of the day. So naturally, handwashing (and, it seems quite often dishwashing as well) is done with cold water.

In fact, I remember one man (educated, well-to-do) telling me he couldn’t stand washing his hands with hot water, that it was very weird, like brushing your teeth with hot water… just not done! (Others tell me they only shower with cold water, but that story’s for another day).

Did you know:
…that there is actually a Global Handwashing Day? The GHD folks (honest, I swear they really use the acronym!) are pretty worked up about it and provide all kinds of information about correct technique  (ex: use soap and wash for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday) Check out the site, they’ll be happy to explain far more than you ever imagined needing to know about the fine art of handwashing.  And, if this gets you excited, you too can revel with the GHD crew on Thursday, October 15, 2009.

On a more serious note (remove tongue from cheek), the folks at GHD seem to be doing wonderful work on educating people on basic health issues. Thankfully, Chile is not on the list of 73 target countries where diseases that are controllable by washing with soap, but then again neither is Mexico, the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak.