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Americas

Potentially killer swine flu spreads to US from Mexico

Video by Louis MASSIE

Latest update : 2009-04-25

Mexican and US authorities have taken emergency measures after the spreading of a swine flu outbreak that is suspected of causing more than 60 deaths and nearly 1,000 infections in Mexico. The flu has now spread north into the US.

REUTERS - A strain of flu never seen before has killed as many as 61 people in Mexico and has spread into the United States, where eight people have been infected but recovered, health officials said on Friday.

 

Mexico's government said at least 16 people have died of the disease in central Mexico and that it may also have been responsible for 45 other deaths.

 

The World Health Organization said tests showed the virus in 12 of the Mexican patients had the same genetic structure as a new strain of swine flu, designated H1N1, seen in eight people in California and Texas.

 

Because there is clearly human-to-human spread of the new virus, raising fears of a major outbreak, Mexico's government canceled classes for millions of children in its sprawling capital city and surrounding areas.

 

"Our concern has grown as of yesterday," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acting director Dr. Richard Besser told reporters in a telephone briefing.

 

It first looked mostly like a swine virus but closer analysis showed it is a never-before-seen mixture of swine, human and avian viruses, according to the CDC.

 

"We do not have enough information to fully assess the health threat posed by this new swine flu virus," Besser said.

 

Humans can occasionally catch swine flu from pigs but rarely have they been known to pass it on to other people.

 

The WHO said it was ready to use rapid containment measures if needed, including antivirals, and that both the United States and Mexico are well equipped to handle the outbreak.

 

Both the WHO and the CDC said there was no need to alter travel arrangements in Mexico or the United States.

 
 
Close to 1,000 suspected cases in Mexico
 

Eight people were infected with the new strain in California and Texas, but all of them have recovered. Mexico said it had close to 1,000 suspected cases there.

 

The CDC's Besser said scientists were working to understand why there are so many deaths in Mexico when the infections in the United States seem mild.

 

Worldwide, seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people in an average year, but the flu season for North America should have been winding down.

 

The U.S. government said it was closely following the new cases. "The White House is taking the situation seriously and monitoring for any new developments. The president has been fully briefed," an administration official said.

 

Mexico's government cautioned people not to shake hands or kiss when greeting or to share food, glasses or cutlery for fear of infection.

 

The outbreak jolted residents of the Mexican capital, one of the world's biggest cities and home to some 20 million people.

 

One pharmacy ran out of surgical face masks after selling 300 in a day.

 

"We're frightened because they say it's not exactly flu, it's another kind of virus and we're not vaccinated," said Angeles Rivera, 34, a federal government worker who fetched her son from a public kindergarten that was closing.

 

The virus is an influenza A virus, carrying the designation H1N1. It contains DNA from avian, swine and human viruses, including elements from European and Asian swine viruses, the CDC has said.

 

The Geneva-based U.N. agency WHO said it was in daily contact with U.S., Canadian and Mexican authorities and had activated its Strategic Health Operations Center (SHOC) -- its command and control center for acute public health events.

 

The CDC said it will issue daily updates at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swine/investigation.htm.

 

Surveillance for and scrutiny of influenza has been stepped up since 2003, when H5N1 bird flu reappeared in Asia. Experts fear that or another strain could spark a pandemic that could kill millions.

 

In Egypt, a 33-year-old woman died of bird flu, becoming the third such victim there in a week. The H5N1 bird flu, a completely different strain from the swine flu, has infected 421 people in 15 countries and killed 257 since 2003.

 

An outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, killed 44 people in Canada in 2003.

 

Date created : 2009-04-24

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