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Colombian president comes down with swine flu

COLOMBIAN President Alvaro Uribe has the swine flu and officials have advised other South American leaders who met with him at a summit of the infection, authorities said yesterday.

The 57-year-old Uribe began feeling symptoms Friday, the same day as a meeting of South American presidents in Bariloche, Argentina, and he was confirmed to have swine flu after returning home, Social Protection Minister Diego Palacio said.

"This isn't something that has us scared," Palacio said at a news conference. Uribe, a key U.S. ally in Latin America, is not considered a high-risk patient and will continue working from his computer, officials said.

Public health director Gilberto Alvarez said in a telephone interview that there was no need to put the president in isolation and that his condition would monitored for three days to a week.

During a Union of South American Nations summit of the region's presidents Friday, Uribe spent hours defending his plan to give US troops more access to Colombian bases as part of his government's fight against drug traffickers and leftist rebels. Many of his colleagues have voiced concerns about the idea.

Palacio said Colombia's foreign ministry was informing governments whose leaders may have come in contact with Uribe.

No governments immediately reported cases of sick officials.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who attended the summit, said he felt fine and had been tested for swine flu after returning from another UNASUR summit in Ecuador earlier in August. He said he didn't see any need to be tested again.

"At this moment, no, because I do not have anything," Chavez said. "I am so well that last night I pitched" in a game of softball.

Chavez, a socialist who has strained relations with the conservative Uribe, wished the Colombian leader good health.

"I regret this and hope there are no repercussions for the president's health and that nobody else has caught the disease," Chavez said.

Dr. Alberto Cortez, an infectious disease specialist at Colombia's Universidad Nacional, said it is possible the disease could have been passed to other leaders at the summit. But he added it needs to be established when Uribe became sick to determine whether he picked up the virus in Argentina - where there are many cases - or if he arrived there with the illness.

Uribe is the second Latin American leader to come down with the swine flu.

On Aug. 11, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias announced he had swine flu and was being quarantined at his home. The 69-year-old leader, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending Central America's civil wars, has recovered.

Colombia's presidential office released a brief statement Sunday saying the country's National Health Institute confirmed that Uribe had swine flu. It said his case was "developing satisfactorily."

The health institute's director, Juan Gonzalo Lopez, said Uribe's case was confirmed Sunday and the president he had complained of body pains and general discomfort.

Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, spokesman for Uribe, said Uribe planned to handle his duties while recovering.

"The president will continue doing his work by computer," Velasquez said.

Colombia has reported 621 confirmed cases of swine flu, including Uribe's. There have been 34 deaths from the illness, the government says.


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