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World takes drastic steps to contain swine flu

From Egypt's order that all 300,000 pigs in the country be slaughtered to travel bans and putting the kibosh on kissing, the world is taking drastic -- and some say debatable -- measures to combat swine flu.

World takes drastic steps to contain swine flu

A man wears a medical mask while walking in lower Manhattan in New York, April 29, 2009. [Agencies]

Egypt ordered the pig slaughter even though there hasn't been a single case of swine flu there and no evidence that pigs have spread the disease. Britain, with only five cases, is trying to buy 32 million masks. And in the United States, President Barack Obama said more of the country's 132,000 schools may have to be shuttered.

At airports from Japan to South Korea to Greece and Turkey, thermal cameras were trained on airline passengers to see if any were feverish. And Lebanon discouraged traditional Arab peck-on-the-cheek greetings, even though no one has come down with the virus there.

All this and more, even though world health experts say many of these measures may not stop the disease from spreading. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to the second-highest level, meaning it believes a global outbreak of the disease is imminent.

"Scientifically speaking, the main thing is that every virus behaves differently," said Joerg Hacker, president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's top public health authority. "At the moment, the main issue is to get to know this virus, how it works."

In Germany, where officials confirmed three cases, Lufthansa announced that starting Thursday it will put a doctor aboard all flights to Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Experts said that makes sense: The doctors will be able to field questions from uneasy passengers and tend to anyone who might fall ill.

The World Health Organization said total bans on travel to Mexico -- such as one imposed by Argentina, which hasn't had any confirmed cases -- were questionable because the virus is already fairly widespread.

Roselyne Bachelot, France's health minister, said she would ask the European Union to suspend all flights to Mexico at a meeting Thursday in Luxembourg.

Travel bans were effective during the 2003 outbreak of SARS in Asia, because that illness can be transmitted only by people who already show symptoms. With flu, by contrast, the incubation period ranges from 24 hours to four days, meaning people often are infectious before they have symptoms.

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