Department issues swine flu alert

THE Department of Health has warned people planning to travel to countries with high rates of H1N1 swine flu - especially Europe, North America and Canada - to be on high alert.

Fidel Hadebe, the department's spokesperson said: "Swine flu cases in countries in the northern hemisphere continue to increase daily."

He said people travelling to these destinations should exercise caution to reduce the risk of infection.

Hadebe said the number of H1N1 influenza cases in South Africa had decreased considerably.

"No case has been reported in the last three weeks," he said.

"But a week ago, a 28-year-old woman who had travelled from Dubai was admitted to a Western Cape private hospital with H1N1," he said.

There have been 12 619 confirmed cases of swine flu in SA so far and 91 people have died since it was first detected in June. Most deaths occurred in Western Cape.

Hadebe said: "As no H1N1 vaccine is available in SA travellers are advised to take precautions as part of preventing illnesses.

"The department is engaged in negotiations to securing doses of H1N1 vaccine," he said.

"But at this stage, there is no vaccine registered in Africa."

Meanwhile, the number of cases reported recently in many countries has declined, but there are fears that the influenza might spread following the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia later this month.

About three million people from 160 countries are expected to gather in Mecca and Medina.

Saudi Arabian health authorities have said measures were in place to deal with a possible outbreak.

The Saudi department of health said it was setting up an emergency operations centre to track how many people are sick and will need the free anti-viral medication.

SA has officially recognised 4965 people to attend hajj which runs from November 25 to 29.