SWINE flu has likely arrived in Manitoba -- it just hasn't made anyone severely ill yet. That was the message from the province's top medical official Wednesday, as global experts sounded the alarm bell that human swine flu is one step closer to becoming a worldwide pandemic.
Manitoba's chief medical officer Dr. Joel Kettner said he has no doubt the human swine flu virus is circulating in the province, considering the number of Manitobans who frequent Mexico and the fact the viral outbreak has cropped up in other Canadian provinces.
So far, there have been nine suspected cases of swine flu in Manitoba, but all tested negative for the virus.
Doctors and nurses across the province are on the lookout for patients with symptoms of severe respiratory illness who have recently travelled to Mexico, including patients with a high, persistent fever, shortness of breath and chest pain.
"I have no doubt that it is in Manitoba, in people," Kettner said. "It's showing up all across Canada, it's showing up all around the world, so I think it's probably here too."
The growing threat of swine flu has raised questions about whether Manitoba is doing enough to screen people who may have been exposed to the virus.
Winnipegger Mike Babinsky spent a week in the Cancun sun with his wife and two sons at the end of March, where his 13-year-old fell ill with a serious cough and fever. The symptoms persisted, and three weeks ago a Winnipeg doctor prescribed Babinsky's teen with an inhaler.
By the time reports of the human swine flu surfaced, Babinsky said his other son started coughing. That was enough to prompt another visit to the doctor for both of the boys, where Babinsky said the physician refused to test the boys for swine flu. "We're in Mexico, we're close to pigs, they're coughing, they had the flu," Babinsky said, noting his sons went to school while they were coughing. "If you're not going to screen, (is that) why we don't we have any confirmed cases in Manitoba? We went to the doctor and we asked for it."
Kettner said the province is not screening every traveller returning from Mexico or every Manitoban with mild symptoms of swine flu, saying it's impractical and a potential waste of resources. The province's pandemic plan focuses on detecting and treating people who are severely ill, since people with mild symptoms will recover.
Kettner said most people know when they feel sick enough to need a doctor, and anyone with mild flu-like symptoms shouldn't panic. Manitobans can prevent the spread of flu by washing their hands, using hand sanitizer and coughing or sneezing in the crook of their arm to contain the spread of germs.
Family doctors and clinics have been directed to put a mask on anyone who fits the bill for severe respiratory illness, and phone an emergency room to alert staff the patient is en route. Hospital staff are directed to put any patient with a suspected case of swine flu in isolation, and use gloves and gowns when interacting with the patient.
Every province considered testing everyone returning from Mexico with few or no symptoms of swine flu, Kettner said.
"It would be a huge waste of time, money, and we wouldn't have the lab tests when we need them or when there's clusters or outbreaks."