CHIBA (Kyodo) Japan went on high alert for swine flu Saturday in light of the deadly outbreaks in Mexico, tightening health checks and inspections on passengers and live pigs arriving from the country.
The quarantine station at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture began using thermographic imaging to check passengers’ temperatures to detect fevers that could be caused by swine flu infections, quarantine officials said.
Thermographic imaging uses infrared cameras to measure body temperatures. The cameras will be installed in front of the arrival gate for flights from Mexico.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry also told animal quarantine offices across Japan on Saturday to check live pigs brought into Japan for possible infection.
It has not requested that imported pork products be checked because the virus dies when heated, and the chance of the virus adhering to pork is quite low, it said.
In 2008, 164 pigs were imported for breeding purposes from the United States, which has also dealt with human swine flu infections, and none from Mexico, the ministry said.
At Kansai International Airport, quarantine officials began asking people returning from Mexico to report fevers, coughing or any other potential symptoms to its quarantine office.
The airport installed a thermographic device in 2003 to deal with the outbreak of the respiratory virus SARS and will use it to check passengers from Mexico. Since there are no direct flights from Mexico to Kansai airport, the officials will check those who returning from the country via the United States.
However, swine flu has not yet been designated as an infectious disease requiring quarantine inspections, and airport officials will contact the health ministry whether to determine whether it is appropriate to isolate passengers who appear to have symptoms of swine flu.
A liaison office was set up at the crisis management center in the prime minister’s office to gather information on the outbreak, and the health ministry set up 10 telephone lines in the afternoon for consultations on the issue that were soon clogged by anxious callers.
Yoshio Namba, head of the health ministry’s swine flu task force, told the public not to panic on Saturday and asked people to act on correct information. The number for telephone consultations is (03) 3501-9031.
The health ministry has prepared leaflets to raise awareness about the epidemic among travelers to Mexico and the United States, which has also reported human infections, and the Foreign Ministry urged those set to travel to Mexico to consider canceling.
More than 5,000 Japanese are living in Mexico, but the government has not received any reports on potential infections, it said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said at a news conference that a task force headed by Prime Minister Taro Aso will be set up if the World Health Organization concludes that the swine flu virus in Mexico is a new strain that can cause human-to-human infections.
Japanese companies with production bases in Mexico, however, were busy trying to gather information on the outbreak.
Toyota Motor Corp. began preparing to send masks to its plants in the U.S. and Canada, while Nissan Motor Co. has ordered local employees to see doctors if they get symptoms.
Home appliance makers operating in Mexico, including Hitachi Ltd., Panasonic Corp., Sharp Corp. and Sanyo Electric Co., issued similar orders.
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