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Medvedev orders regions to step up flu measures

MOSCOW, April 27 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian president instructed on Monday regional authorities to take urgent action to prevent the spread of swine flu in Russia, the Kremlin press service said.

Dmitry Medvedev instructed his envoys in the federal districts to personally supervise the preventative measures to ensure the virus did not spread. He gave them one month to report back to him.

Swine flu, caused by the H1N1 virus, is suspected to have killed at least 103 people in Mexico, a total of 1,614 others have been hospitalized.

Although 40 human cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the United States, six in Canada and one in Spain, none of them have been fatal. The United States has declared a public health emergency. Suspected infections have been reported in the U.K., Brazil, New Zealand, Israel and France.

The World Health Organization (WHO) believes the outbreak of swine flu, which is a respiratory disease with the same symptoms as influenza, is a new mutation of the H1N1 strain.

The H1N1 virus was responsible for the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed at least 20 million people worldwide.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan warned on Sunday, that the outbreak had "pandemic potential" and urged governments to improve measures to monitor the virus.

Dmitry Lvov, a member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the head of the Ivanovsky Virology Institute, predicted an outbreak of swine flu in October 2004 and even described how the virus would mutate.

He said a deadly human-transmissible strain with a fatality rate of about 70% could occur in pigs as a hybrid of the H3N2 bird flu strain and human influenza.

"Pigs are equally susceptible to both human and bird flu viruses," the scientist said at a news conference in 2004. "The two viruses are able to re-combine in cells of a pig, which is infected with both, and form a new virus with the ability of human-to-human transmission. This is how a pandemic strain of flu comes into existence."

The H3N2 flu strain already mutated into a pandemic flu strain in 1968-1969, causing an outbreak of the disease, known as Hong Kong Flu which killed an estimated one million people worldwide.

And in an interview on the sidelines of the Sixth International Bird Flu Summit in Bali in February Lvov said "Since H5N1 mutations never stop, the virus could eventually 'learn' to hit the upper parts of humans' respiratory tract. This would be very bad, but in the worst scenario bird and flu viruses will infect the same recipient, for example a pig, whose organism is susceptible to both viruses. There is one chance in a million of that, but this one chance could result in a global catastrophe that would claim millions of lives."

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