1 May 2009

Swine flu assessment centres planned

6:01 am on 1 May 2009

The Government is setting up regional assessment centres to move passengers who may be infected with swine flu out of airports.

Community-based swine flu assessment centres are part of the Ministry of Health's pandemic plans and could be set up around the country over the next few weeks.

Director General of Health Stephen McKiernan says a new centre for the northern region it is likely to be set up at Middlemore Hospital which is close to Auckland International Airport and has enough space to deal with isolation requirements.

The Government says there is no need for an escalation of its efforts against swine flu despite the number of confirmed cases here rising to 16.

The World Health Organisation has raised its pandemic alert level to five - the second highest. Health Minister Tony Ryall says New Zealand's health status remains at 'code yellow'.

Thousands of people worldwide are being tested for the swine flu virus, or H1N1, and it's thought to be responsible for 160 deaths in Mexico and the United States.

WHO director general Margaret Chan says all countries should activate their pandemic plans and she is urging pharmaceutical companies to increase their production of antiviral drugs.

New Zealand is one of nine countries where the virus has been confirmed. There are 111 people who are suspected of having the virus.

At a briefing in Wellington on Thursday, the Ministry of Health said there has been no change to the condition of the people being treated as though they have swine flu.

They are still experiencing mild flu-like symptoms and some say those symptoms are milder than winter flu symptoms.

Deputy director of health Fran McGrath says there are hundreds of people in isolation but she doesn't know exactly how many.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshorn has had to call off Friday's meeting with Prime Minister John Key in Greymouth as he is in quarantine.

One of Mr Kokshoon's children developed a sore throat on returning from a family holiday to the United States.

Testing time slashed

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research says it's dramatically cutting the time it takes to confirm swine flu in test samples.

ESR scientists at the National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease in Wellington have begun testing samples to identify the strain.

General manager of environmental health, Dr Fiona Thompson-Carter, says WHO protocol meant earlier testing was done in Melbourne.

She says it took three or four days to receive those results, but examining the samples in Wellington reduces the waiting time to 24 hours.

Thermal scanners won't be used here

Body temperature cameras designed to identify travellers suffering fever are not being considered for use at airports in New Zealand.

In an attempt to prevent the spread of swine flu, eight airports in Australia are to install thermal scanners. South Korea and Japan are already using the technology.

Dr McGrath says the machines were reviewed in New Zealand during an outbreak of SARS and there is considerable debate about their effectiveness.

According to Auckland International Airport, more than 5,000 travellers from North America land in New Zealand each week and every flight is being screened.

Special clinic set up

A specialist clinic has been set up in Christchurch to assess potential swine flu cases.

The Canterbury Primary Pandemic Group is not disclosing the location of the clinic, to lessen the risk of spreading the disease.

Senior clinical leader Simon Wynn-Thomas says only people who have been assessed over the phone by their doctor or community and public health and referred to the clinic, are admitted.

This is in response to concern the disease could spread rapidly in doctors' waiting rooms.

Dr Wynn-Thomas says another reason the location of the clinic is not being disclosed is to avoid confusion if it has to be moved or closed, as the swine flue situation evolves.

Govt advice to NZers in Mexico

The Government is advising New Zealanders in Mexico to leave the country if they are worried about their health.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a warning against tourist and other non-essential travel to Mexico.

The Ministry says 71 New Zealanders are registered with its Mexican embassy as being in the country.

Some students back at school

Some of the students from Rangitoto College who have been quarantined since Saturday have returned to school.

Principal David Hodge says they are students who did not contract influenza, but who were quarantined and given Tamiflu as a precaution.

He says some students have opted to stay away until Monday because they don't want other people to worry that they may be contagious.

Mr Hodge says the students who were diagnosed with flu have recovered well and suffered no serious symptoms.

Health authorities are launching their annual campaign to teach school children how to sneeze without spreading disease.

The programme was previously for younger children, but is going to intermediate schools for the first time this year.

Programme creator Toni Ferens says young people need to be especially careful around colds and flus at schools and sportsfields, as that's when they spend a lot of time being in close proximity of each other.