BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Sunday that no cases of a new type of swine flu that has killed up to 81 people in Mexico and infected others in the United States have been reported so far in Europe.
“Until now we have no reported cases in Europe. We are following very closely the situation as it evolves,” a spokeswoman for the EU executive, which oversees human and animal health policy in the 27-nation bloc, said.
“Constant contacts with the European Center for Disease Control, the U.S., Mexico, WHO (World Health Organization) and member states are ongoing and we are evaluating the information we have already.”
The head of the WHO has called for greater worldwide surveillance for any unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness after her organization declared the Mexican flu outbreak as a ”public health event of international concern.
The new flu strain, a mixture of various swine, bird and human viruses, poses the biggest risk of a large-scale pandemic since avian flu surfaced in 1997, killing several hundred people.
The Spanish authorities said they had placed three people under continuous observation after they arrived from Mexico with symptoms of influenza and in France two people, also returning from Mexico, were being tested for the disease.
Tests on a British Airways cabin crew member taken to a London hospital suffering flu-like symptoms showed he does not have swine flu.
New flu strains can spread quickly because no one has natural immunity to them and a vaccine takes months to develop.
Spain’s Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said it will take about 48 hours of observation to clarify whether the three people there are suffering from swine flu.
He said the authorities are also contacting all people who traveled on the same flights to ask if they are suffering from symptoms of flu.
A French Health Ministry spokeswoman said there were two unconfirmed cases but declined to give further details. Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot was due to hold the first of a series of daily news conferences on swine flu on Sunday afternoon.
“We have identified two suspect cases, two people who were returning from Mexico and who had fever and who are currently being investigated,” French public health director Didier Houssin told RTL radio.
“In the coming days or weeks we will necessarily be confronted with increasing numbers of people returning from that region about whom we will have suspicions.”
Reporting by Darren Ennis in Brussels, Jonathan Gleave in Madrid Francois Murphy in Paris and Avril Ormsby in London, editing by Matthew Jones