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Germany confirms first cases of swine flu

German authorities have confirmed the country's first human swine flu infections after lab tests showed that three patients had contracted the virus.

Man and woman with protective masks in Bavaria

Germany has confirmed the country's first cases of swine flu

The Robert-Koch-Institute in Berlin on Wednesday confirmed three cases of swine flu in northern and southern Germany. A man in his late thirties and a 37-year old woman were diagnosed with swine flu in the Bavarian towns of Regensburg and Kulmbach. A further case of swine flu was confirmed in the northern city of Hamburg where a 22-year-old woman contracted the disease after returning from Mexico.

It is the first official confirmation that the virus has indeed reached Germany. Authorities said they were monitoring further suspected cases of swine flu in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia.

Other European countries have also been hit by the virus which was first discovered in Mexico.

Austria reported its first suspected case of swine flu on Tuesday. According to ORF state television, a 28-year-old woman showed flu-like symptoms upon returning from a trip to Mexico. But the health ministry has not confirmed the reports. The country is now investigating five suspected cases.

Spain confirmed its second case of the virus on Tuesday. Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez told reporters that a patient hospitalized in Valencia tested positive for the virus. Jimenez said both patients were responding well to treatment and could be released from the hospital soon. Authorities were observing a further 32 people.

"The condition of all these people is not serious and is stable," the minister said. She added that the situation was "under control."

On Monday, two cases were confirmed in the United Kingdom. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, a total of nine European countries currently have persons under observation.

In Mexico, the death toll linked to swine flu has been revised downwards. Of the 26 confirmed cases, seven have died as a result of the virus. Previously health authorities spoke of 20 deaths. Experts say they suspect some 2,500 have been infected with the virus.

Prepared for the worst

The German government and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the central federal institution responsible for disease control, have expressed concern at the increasing number of worldwide cases of swine flu.

Tamiflu tablets

Swine flu can be effectively treated with antiviral medication such as Tamiflu

"We consider the virus to be very dangerous," said RKI president Joerg Hacker on Tuesday in Berlin. "It has the potential to trigger a pandemic." He said it was difficult to predict the extent the virus could spread, due to the new strain's human-to-human transmission.

Germany, however, was prepared for the worst, said Klaus Theo Schroeder from the federal health ministry. All necessary precautions were in place.

"At the moment we don't see a concrete threat, no scenario that would make it necessary to set up crisis groups on all levels," Schroeder said. "But we are prepared to do so within hours if necessary."

According to Schroeder, some 9,000 Germans spend their holidays in Mexico every year. If several were to fall ill with the virus, this would not entail a pandemic breaking out.

"We would have individual cases which would be very quickly and very reliably diagnosed according to the requirements of the RKI and could be successfully treated with antiviral medication," Schroeder said. The possibilities to combat the illness were in place.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the disease had become "an international problem" but could be dealt with.

"We have been prepared for this kind of scenario for many years," Brown said.

Caution in travelling to Mexico

Authorities in several countries have warned against travel to Mexico and its border areas, with France on Tuesday joining Britain and the Czech Republic in issuing warnings.

Beach in Mexico

British travel firms have halted trips to Mexico

But EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said Tuesday she saw no need to place restrictions on travel.

"Precautionary measures are advisable but at this juncture I don't see any point on restricting travelling, although I understand that the United States of America have issued restrictions on travelling to Mexico," Vassiliou said. EU health ministers are due to discuss the matter in Luxembourg on Thursday, she said.

Vassiliou has said the swine flu epidemic should be renamed "novel flu" because the current name is misleading and could unnecessarily damage the pork industry.

She said pork was safe to eat, and that the "wrong connotation" contained in the name could hurt producers.

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