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Bolivia may Turn Back the Clocks to protect children against early morning cold temperatures

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  • Bolivia may Turn Back the Clocks to protect children against early morning cold temperatures

    Bolivia Seeks to Turn Back the Clocks on Swine Flu Pandemic

    By Jonathan J. Levin

    June 17 (Bloomberg) -- Bolivia?s health ministry may have a new weapon against swine flu: time.

    The South American nation, about to enter winter, proposed turning clocks back an hour for the first time in history to shield citizens from morning cold. The idea came up this week after Bolivia confirmed its first nine cases of the H1N1 virus, said Eddy Martinez, head of the Health Ministry?s epidemiology department.

    The World Health Organization last week declared swine flu a pandemic. The Geneva-based agency confirmed 35,928 people in 76 countries have been infected with the virus, and 163 have died, according to its Web site. Schools in other countries, including Mexico and parts of the U.S., have closed to slow the flu?s spread.

    ?What we?re doing is lowering the possibility that people, especially children, are exposed to very low temperatures,
    ? Martinez said in an interview yesterday at his office in La Paz, the Bolivian capital in the Andes mountains. ?This measure would greatly support the management of the public?s health.?

    Bolivia has no scientific proof that changing clocks will curb the spread of flu, Martinez said. About half the country?s 10 million residents live in the Andean highlands, and most schools in the region are unheated.

    Public school classes begin at 8 a.m. and local governments in the past have delayed opening by an hour because cold weather prevents some parents from taking children to school, Martinez said. The average low temperature in June in La Paz is 1 degree Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the BBC Web site.

    The time change is ?highly likely to be ineffective,? said William Schaffner, an influenza expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Proximity, Temperature

    ?It?s having all the children close together where they have prolonged contact with each other that?s the determining factor,? not the temperature, Schaffner said today in an interview.

    If Bolivia?s Congress approves the switch, it will occur every winter, helping prevent the spread of other strains of influenza, Martinez said. Bolivians would regain the hour after the season ends, he said.

    The time change would pose ?no difficulties? to Bolivia?s businesses, airline schedules and other international dealings, Martinez said.

    The Health Ministry plans to present the time-change proposal to Congress, where it must be approved by both chambers to become law.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan J. Levin in La Paz at