US reports second swine flu death
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U.S. authorities have announced a second death from the new H1N1 flu virus, while Mexico protested curbs on its citizens and pork products in response to the waning epidemic.
Reuters - U.S. authorities announced on Tuesday a second death attributed to the new H1N1 flu virus, while Mexico protested curbs on its citizens and pork products in response to the waning epidemic.
In Texas, local health officials said a woman infected with the H1N1 virus died earlier this week.
“A woman from Cameron County who had chronic underlying health conditions died earlier this week,” the Texas Department of State Health Services said on its website.
It was the second death attributed to the virus on U.S. soil following the death earlier this month of a Mexican toddler who had traveled to the United States.
Health experts have said the H1N1 swine flu, which has killed 26 people in Mexico, appears mild and does not seem to be spreading aggressively outside North America. But Mexican citizens and goods have faced quarantines and bans.
The global health alert over the previously unknown virus, which has infected more than 1,300 people in 22 nations, has also stirred trade and diplomatic tensions as alarmed governments take protection measures to avoid contagion.
An AeroMexico plane on Tuesday picked up dozens of Mexicans stranded in China after they were quarantined there. Mexican President Felipe Calderon condemned the measure as discrimination against his compatriots.
China, which was badly hit by a SARS epidemic in 2003, says it acted correctly, and along with Russia and more than a dozen other countries has imposed a ban on Mexican meat products, despite expert views that the pork contagion risk is minimal.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Tuesday the risk of catching the H1N1 flu virus from pork was “totally negligible.”
Following up on its diplomatic protest to China, Mexico told the World Trade Organization on Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” by what it called “divisive measures” applied by some WTO members against its pork products.
“Mexico urgently requests all its trading partners to eliminate any restrictive measures established on Mexican products, which are not in accordance with the scientific information available,” the Mexican statement said.
U.S. and Canadian pig and pork exports have also been hit by bans which rattled the $26 billion a year global pork industry, in which Mexico, the United States and Canada are among top exporters.
“BAD LUCK FOR MEXICO”
Mexico now says it is over the worst of its flu infection and is set to gradually resume normal business and public life from Wednesday after days of shutdown.
Calderon has announced a fiscal stimulus plan, including tax reductions to lure back foreign tourism and cruise operators, to offset the blow of the health alert, which Finance Minister Agustin Carstens said could knock as much as half a percentage point off growth this year. [nN05475803]
Pedestrians and cars were returning to the streets of Mexico City, but activity was still well below normal.
Many Mexicans felt their country, already notorious for drug cartel violence, was being unfairly stigmatized.
“With all this bad reputation that we’re getting, it’s going to take time to salvage the nation’s image ... it’s been bad luck for Mexico,” said Jorge Ramirez, 48, a chauffeur.
“There should be no travel restrictions or closure of borders ... It is not helpful to blame or stigmatize people who happen to be citizens of infected countries,” Dr Jon K. Andrus of the Pan American Health Organization told reporters.
Following World Health Organization warnings of an “imminent” pandemic, which generated global alarm and shut down business and public life in Mexico, scientists now say the new H1N1 strain does not appear more deadly than seasonal flu.
But the United Nations, fearing a possible more violent flu resurgence later this year, urged continuing vigilance.
“There is still much that is not known about this new strain and the dangers it poses. We must therefore be prepared,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference.
LATER SURGE FEARED IN SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE
Some health experts said the virus could surge in the southern hemisphere when the winter begins.
The United States had more than 400 confirmed cases in 38 states, and the WHO was also monitoring infection clusters in Spain and Britain.
The WHO said on Tuesday it would begin sending 2.4 million treatment courses of Tamiflu, an antiviral proven effective against the new flu, to 72 nations, including Mexico.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a news briefing scientists were growing more confident the outbreak would not be as serious as originally feared.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acting director Dr. Richard Besser said even Mexico’s outbreak was looking milder.
Mexican President Calderon urged his people to try to resume their regular lives after almost two weeks of alarm.
“Little by little we are returning to normal,” he told an event in the city of Puebla to mark the Cinco de Mayo celebration there of an 1862 battle against French forces.
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