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Costa Rica's efforts to ward off swine flu

With no confirmed cases of swine flu here, Costa Rica and its Central American neighbors have put in place disease prevention barriers — including tighter health checks and on-site clinics at airports and borders — to protect their citizens from a possible outbreak of the virus, according to news reports out of several countries in the region.

At Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria International Airport, arriving international flight crews are required to keep an eye out for passengers with flu symptoms and notify immigration authorities upon landing, The Tico Times reported. Immigration officials and airport staff are donning surgical masks and are prepared with other protective gear. Similar checks and precautions are taking place at airports and border checks across the region, with Guatemala, Mexico’s neighbor to the south, feeling particularly vulnerable.

“A cordon sanitaire been set up at the borders, airports and all points of entry” to Guatemala, Waleska Cecena, head of the country’s National Epidemiology Center, told the magazine Estrategia y Negocios. The magazine also reported that Guatemala has at least three suspected cases of swine flu infection.

Nicaragua’s health authorities launched a nationwide campaign to train teachers, students and emergency workers in the event of an outbreak, the Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario reported.

Costa Rica has also been preparing for the seemingly inevitable. Health officials here have already ruled out more than a dozen cases since Friday.

The authorities created a special influenza information website, with advice such as avoiding kissing and shaking hands if you have a cold or flu-like symptoms.

Meanwhile, bloggers, journalists and other Internet users are rapid-fire “Twittering” about the flu, hanging on the authorities’ every word.

Central American health ministers are set to participate in a conference call with the World Health Organization this morning.