Countries throughout Asia and the Pacific are taking steps to prevent a strain of swine flu infecting humans from spreading to the region after more than 100 deaths were reported in Mexico and at least 20 cases in the United States and six in Canada.  Recent outbreaks of disease have made Asia better prepared for potential pandemics.

Asian and Pacific countries are taking temperature scans of passengers arriving from North America and quarantining those with flu-like symptoms.

The World Health Organization is warning the outbreak of swine flu has pandemic potential and is urging nations to take precautions.

Peter Cordingley is the spokesman for the WHO's Western Pacific office, based in Manila.  He says although the virus has not appeared in Asia it has great potential to spread internationally.

"Our advice to governments is to do their best to make sure they're aware of incoming travelers that might have come from infected regions," Cordingley said.  "To advise all their physicians to report any unusual symptoms of influenza."

No restrictions

The WHO is not recommending any travel or trade restrictions.

Nonetheless, many Asian nations are warning against travel to Mexico, where the swine flu has hit hardest and is believed to have originated.

At least one Asian nation, China, has banned pork from Mexico and parts of the United States, despite the lack of evidence the virus is being spread directly to humans by pork or pigs.

Asia prepared for disease outbreaks

Cordingley says, since the SARS virus spread from Asia in 2003, killing hundreds worldwide, Asian countries have become better prepared for outbreaks of disease.

"Public health systems learnt a lesson form SARS.  They're much stronger," he noted.  "Governments have stockpiles of Tamiflu.  Infection-control measures have been stepped up.  Many, many hospitals now have isolation wards.  So, Asia is better prepared.  But, we don't know what this virus is going to do and we don't know whether it will overwhelm health systems."

Strains of swine flu that affect pigs are common in Asia, but cases that spread to humans are rare.

Cordingley says the strain of swine flu affecting people in North America has spread quickly.

There are suspected cases being tested as far away as New Zealand with many health officials concerned the virus could mutate, making it more difficult to control.