Baby in hospital as tally rises to 16

Baby in hospital as tally rises to 16

All patients responding well to treatment

A British infant on holiday with his family in Gozo has become the first patient to be admitted to hospital after contracting swine flu, as the number of confirmed cases in Malta last night rose to 16.

The 18-month-old baby was among seven new cases reported earlier after four people returning in the same group from Girona, Spain on Tuesday were confirmed to have the H1N1 influenza type A.

The authorities yesterday emphasised that there was no reason to panic. The Parliamentary Secretariat for the Elderly and Community Care said last night that five new cases were confirmed later in the day, apart from the seven new cases.

The five cases are Maltese. Two of these are members of the same family who were in the UK, recently. The five include a person who returned to Malta from Spain lately and another two. No further details were available.

All cases, except for the baby, are being treated at home.

The baby was admitted to the Gozo General Hospital with a chest infection but was recovering well and should soon be discharged, said Mario Galea, the Parliamentary Secretary for Community Care. Swine flu, which originated in Mexico last April, has spread around the world, with almost 90,000 cases now confirmed, including 382 deaths.

Another case of swine flu confirmed yesterday was an eight-year-old Scottish girl also on holiday with her family in Gozo. Mr Galea said she had been in contact with infected children back home. This case is not connected with that of the infant.

A Maltese woman in her late 20s was found to be suffering from the disease after flying in from the UK on Tuesday, while a 22-year-old man fell ill with the strain of influenza after arriving from Spain on Thursday.

Three men, aged 22 and 23, and a 16-year-old boy have joined the list of victims after flying in from Spain on the same Ryanair flight from Girona that the first four victims were travelling on.

The very first two local cases of swine flu were confirmed on Wednesday in rugby players who were on that flight. One of them had already started to feel unwell on Monday and spent the last day of his holiday in bed.

"I woke up and was not feeling well. At first I thought I had a hangover, and took some Paracetamol and stayed inside," the 26-year-old told The Times yesterday.

He was yesterday feeling much better, even though he spent most of the day asleep: "I felt slightly worse than normal influenza and had aches and pains in my body."

His friend, who was diagnosed on Wednesday, was also feeling better yesterday. "Had I not known I had swine flu, I would already be out," he said. The authorities said all the cases were being treated with the antiviral Tamiflu and were responding well to the medication.

Contacted yesterday, a local spokesman for Tamiflu manufacturer Roche said the company had registered a sharp increase in demand for the antiviral, which was being sold with a doctor's prescription. She said a stock of Tamiflu, including paediatric medicine, was expected to arrive in Malta in about two weeks' time.

After the news broke on Thursday, the authorities were inundated with phone calls. In a bid to stem the spread of the disease, those who suspected they had contracted the influenza were urged to stay at home and call a doctor, and not go to casualty or health centres.

"If they go to Casualty or health centres, they will expose others," said Ray Busuttil, director general of health. He said all the cases had been imported from abroad and transmission from one person to another had not yet occurred in Malta.

He said it was imperative that anyone who felt unwell or had a sore throat or fever after coming from abroad should not go to work or anywhere else to avoid infecting others.

Asked whether the authorities were checking all the people who had flown in on the same planes as those who were infected, Dr Busuttil said there was no need to do this since most of those who fell ill did not have any symptoms when they were flying. The virus can only be transmitted when the symptoms have appeared. Dr Busuttil said that while seasonal influenza tended to be more prevalent among older people, this strain of the flu was having more of an effect on younger people.

Meanwhile, a third case of Tamiflu-resistant swine flu was detected in Hong Kong yesterday, following a case in Japan and another in Denmark. But Dr Busuttil was not concerned about this, saying these were just a few cases among many in the world.

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