San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica Sits Out Regional Conference on Flu

El Salvador and Nicaragua participated in a Central American conference aimed at creating a regional response to the recent influenza outbreak, while Costa Rica did not.

Health ministers from the member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) met behind closed doors in Managua Tuesday to sign a series of accords committing to use all resources available to confront swine flu, the same day the first and second swine flu cases in the region were reported in Costa Rica and other cases were suspected across Central America.

The SICA countries declared a health alert and pledged to increase vigilance and activate preventive programs, along with soliciting help from the World Health Organization.

SICA is composed of Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, although Costa Rica and Belize were not present to sign Tuesday’s declaration.

Countries in the region have been taking increased protective measures at their borders. In El Salvador, health officials are screening every passenger disembarking flights from Mexico, where the outbreak originated, while immigration and customs officials – and even some duty-free vendors – have started wearing the familiar paper paint masks for protection.

On interregional flights, masked stewardesses hand out customs documents to masked passengers, who look accusingly at others who sneeze, cough or clear their throats while in-flight.

The SICA group also agreed to stop passengers from boarding planes who show clear symptoms related with swine flu – although health authorities describe these to be very similar to the common seasonal flu. The countries also pledged to share information with each other about suspected cases.

The Nicaraguan government, which on Tuesday ruled out several suspected cases of infection, has declared the issue a “priority” and is already trying to get political mileage out of the pandemic, which they refer to as “the North American flu.”

–Tim Rogers


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