6th Israeli Hospitalized With Possible Swine Flu; 2 Cases Confirmed

First swine flu death reported in U.S.; victim is 23-month-old infant from Mexico.

Zohar Blumenkrantz
Ran Reznick
Yair Ettinger
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Zohar Blumenkrantz
Ran Reznick
Yair Ettinger

A 56-year-old woman who recently returned from Mexico has been hospitalized in Kfar Sava on suspicion that she may have contracted the potentially deadly swine flu during her trip.

The woman has been quarantined and is considered in good condition. Thus the number of suspected cases of swine flu in Israel rises to four, with two additional patients confirmed as having contracted the virus.

A 34-year-old man was hospitalized at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital on Tuesday for fear he may have been infected with swine flu during his recent trip to Mexico. On Monday, a 9-year-old boy was hospitalized at Tel Aviv's Dana children's hospital, and he is also feared to have been infected. The boy was on an El Al flight from Newark to Israel along with another passenger, a 47-year-old man, who has since been officially diagnosed with the disease.

Another suspected victim is the 5-year-old niece of Tomer Vagim, the first confirmed swine flu victim in Israel. The girl has been hospitalized at Netanya's Laniado hospital, where her uncle is being held for observation, and she was undergoing tests to determine whether her symptoms were a result of the dangerous strain. Her uncle has been administered medication and his condition has been described as "excellent."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided following an emergency meeting with Health Ministry and Defense Ministry officials that for the time being, the situation will remain under the authority of the Health Ministry. However, under the law, should the alert lever be raised to 5 (out of 6), the crisis will then be transferred to the care of the Defense Ministry. On Tuesday, the alert lever was raised from 3 to 4.

Also on Wednesday, a U.S. government official confirmed the first U.S. death from the new H1N1 swine flu, as a 23-month-old child died in Texas. It was later discovered that the infant was Mexican and had beeb brought to Texas for treatment.

The boy's death was the first fatality from the disease to occur outside of Mexico, where so far 159 people have died from the virus since the outbreak began. The official gave no other details on the case. U.S. officials have confirmed 65 cases of swine flu, most of them mild.

Netanyahu met Tuesday evening with Health Ministry and Defense Ministry representatives to decide whether to hand responsibility for a possible swine flu crisis over to the national emergency authority of the Defense Ministry.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has already instructed the ministry's director general and other senior officials to plan to take over the handling of the issue. The professional and health aspects of the disease will remain in the hands of the Health Ministry.

Health Ministry officials briefed Netanyahu on preparations and various future scenarios and forecasts, the government said in a statement. The officials told the prime minister that all the swine flu cases recorded outside Mexico have been mild.

The meeting ended with the decision to follow existing procedures in Israel as well as World Health Organization guidelines. The government will also examine existing stock of medicines in Israel.

World health officials, racing to extinguish the new flu strain that is jumping borders, raised a global alert to an unprecedented level as the outbreak claimed more lives in Mexico. The U.S. prepared for the worst even as President Barack Obama tried to reassure Americans.

With the swine flu having already spread to at least four other countries, authorities around the globe are like firefighters battling a blaze without knowing how far it extends.

The Health Ministry said Monday that it had embraced the recommendation of the European Commission to postpone nonessential travel to Mexico and recommends that travelers be alert to reports regarding other countries.

The ministry also issued a list of guidelines, recommending that the public take some basic steps to avoid contracting the virus. These guidelines include washing hands with soap and water and maintaining basic hygiene before and while handling food, after going to the bathroom and after sneezing or coughing.

In case of sneezing, the health ministry recommends that a disposable tissue be used, and not the hand, and if one is not handy, the ministry recommends using the elbow rather than the hand to cover the nose and mouth.

Furthermore, the ministry recommends staying home from work or school and avoiding public places if one feels sick. The ministry also recommends avoiding physical contact with others displaying symptoms.

The ministry did recommend that such travelers seek medical assistance if they develop flu-like symptoms within seven days after their return. These individuals will be quarantined at local hospitals until their condition is determined.