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Asia-Pacific reports swine flu

THE swine flu epidemic crossed new borders yesterday with the first cases confirmed in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, as world health officials said they suspect American patients may have transmitted the virus to others inside the United States.

Most people confirmed to be victims of the new swine flu were infected in Mexico, where the number of deaths blamed on the virus has surpassed 150.

But confirmation that people had become infected outside Mexico would indicate that the disease was spreading beyond travelers returning from the country, World Health Organization spokesman Gregory Hartl told reporters yesterday in Geneva.

The swine flu has already spread to at least six countries besides Mexico, prompting WHO officials to raise its alert level on Monday.

"At this time, containment is not a feasible option," said Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general.

WHO raised the alert level to Phase 4, meaning there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks in at least one country. Monday was the first time it has ever been raised above Phase 3.

Flu deaths are nothing new in the United States or elsewhere. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 36,000 people died of flu-related causes each year, on average, during the 1990s in the United States. But the new flu strain is a combination of pig, bird and human viruses that humans may have no natural immunity to.

A South Korean woman tested positive for swine flu in additional examinations after traveling to Mexico, making her a "probable" case - the country's first - authorities said yesterday.

Final tests are still necessary to confirm whether the 51-year-old woman has swine flu, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Officials said it would take up to two weeks to get a final result.

New Zealand reported yesterday that 11 people who recently returned from Mexico contracted the virus.

Tests that were conducted at a WHO laboratory in Australia confirmed three cases of swine flu among 11 members of the group who were showing symptoms, New Zealand Health Minister Tony Ryall said.

Officials decided that was evidence enough to assume the whole group was infected, he said.

An Israeli hospital reported late yesterday that it has confirmed the country's second case of swine flu, involving a 47-year-old man who returned to Israel from Mexico two days ago.

Meanwhile, a second case was confirmed yesterday in Spain, Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said, a day after the country reported its first case.

Fifty cases - none fatal and most of them mild - were confirmed in the United States. Including the New Zealand, Israeli and new Spanish reports, there were 93 confirmed cases worldwide yesterday. That included six in Canada, one in Spain and two in Scotland.


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