Swine flu cases mounting quickly

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Confirmed cases of the swine flu virus are suddenly spreading at a much more rapid rate all over Norway. Emergency rooms are packed and health authorities are referring patients to their own doctors and advising them to stay home.

Oslo’s main emergency hospital, Legevakt , was full this week of Norwegians worried they’d been infected with influensa A (H1N1), known as swine flu. Similar facilities from Kristiansand in the south to Tromsø in the north were also experiencing heavy demand from local residents who had flu-like symptoms.

Norway’s public health institute (Folkehelseinstituttet) reported that 74 persons have now tested positive for the virus since May 9. The number of confirmed cases doubled earlier this week and health authorities think cases will now start to increase almost exponentially.

Nearly 70 percent of those falling ill are under age 30, and many have recently returned from travel outside Norway. That’s prompted health authorities to advise Norwegians, especially pregnant women, against traveling to countries where swine flu is prevalent, including Mexico, Spain and now England as well.

“If you absolutely don’t have to travel, stay home,” Dr Bjørg Marit Andersen, a specialist in infectious disease, told newspaper Dagsavisen .

Health authorities had warned last spring that swine flu could turn into an epidemic later this summer or fall. The infection rate is already picking up. Of the 76 confirmed cases so far, 34 emerged in the last week.

They’re trying to take precautions. As in other countries, the authorities are urging Norwegians to frequently wash their hands, sneeze into the crook of their elbow instead of their hands or, preferably, into a paper handkerchief which should immediately be thrown away.

New signs have been posted at Norway’s main international airport at Gardermoen, north of Oslo, urging arriving passengers that if they’re coming from areas with swine flu and fall ill within seven days, to promptly contact a doctor or local clinic, “preferably by telephone.” The signs also urge travelers to limit their contact with other persons until they’ve been diagnosed.

Symptoms are much the same as for other flu viruses, including high fever, body aches, headaches, fatigue and coughs.