By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – The official death toll from swine influenza in Venezuela rose Friday to 55, out of a total of 1,103 diagnosed cases of the illness in the country so far. Announcing the figure, Health Minister Carlos Rotondaro revealed that there had been three deaths since Monday this week, including a 22-year-old woman who was pregnant.
Rotondaro repeated his earlier plea for people who thought they had been infected with the disease to seek medical treatment as quickly as possible. The majority of deaths had been of people who had not done so, he claimed.
The figures lent weight to warnings from the medical profession that the number of cases of swine influenza appeared to be accelerating in Venezuela, in contrast with cautious hope at the World Health Organization that the worst might be passed in overall global terms.
The Network of Scientific Societies (RSS), a non-government organization, said that the “lethality” inflicted by the virus that causes swine influenza, H1N1, had jumped by 344 percent in Venezuela between July and August this year.
Oswaldo Godoy, an epidemiologist at the Hospital Vargas in Caracas, said that of every hundred people who had been infected in Venezuela, five had died on average. This, he claimed, was twice the comparable figure average in Canada, he claimed.
“The great question is what’s happening, why is such a high a lethality rate occurring in Venezuela?” Godoy asked out loud. For Ana Carvajal, a doctor who specialises in infection, the answer was that “when the government says the virus is under control, the people stop giving it due importance.”
The RSS urged Rotondaro and his ministry to work for the common good and in partnership with the medical profession to combat the advance of the spreading disease. There had been serious outbreaks of swine influenza in several states, not least Miranda and Bolívar. Unofficial estimates are that more than 300 cases have been recorded in Greater Caracas.
“The government has to tell people this isn’t an illness,” Carvajal said. “This is a pandemic that’s in all countries.”
The government has said it will spend $25 million to purchase five million doses of vaccine against the disease, saying this will be free and available to all those who wish to be inoculated. Venezuela’s population is estimated to number about 28 million people.
Medical observers have expressed debts about the effectiveness of the vaccines in question. The first death from swine influenza in Venezuela was that of a 22-year-old man on April 28 this year, only days after he had returned from Panama.