Related News

Home » World

Deadly new flu strain erupts in Mexico, US

A new strain of flu has killed up to 68 people in Mexico and spread alarm as far as the United States, where eight people were infected, but health officials stopped short of declaring a pandemic yesterday.

The Mexican government said at least 20 people have died of the flu and it may also be responsible for 48 other deaths.

Authorities closed schools in the capital, canceled public events and handed out face masks.

US and Mexican officials said they fully expected to find many more cases as the flu was spreading between people and had infected some individuals who had no contact with one another.

The World Health Organization said tests showed the virus from 12 of the Mexican patients was the same genetically as a new strain of swine flu, designated H1N1, seen in eight people in California and Texas who later recovered.

"We realize the seriousness of this problem," Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a meeting of health officials and promised to work to bring the outbreak under control.

In California, where six cases were found, Dr. Gil Chavez, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the California Department of Public Health and the state's chief epidemiologist, said many more cases could come to light as patients are tested.
"When you start looking more intensely you are likely to find more cases," Chavez said. "The more we look the more we are likely to find."

The US government said it was taking the situation seriously and monitoring for any new developments.

Central American countries were on alert for signs of the flu spreading there and Chile said it was checking travelers arriving from Mexico and the United States. Colombia and Peru tightened safety checks at their airports.

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said authorities had one million doses of antiviral medicine, easily enough to treat 1,004 suspected cases reported so far.

Yet the Mexico City government shut schools and canceled public events to try to prevent more deaths in the sprawling, overcrowded capital of some 20 million people.

Finnish rock band The Rasmus axed a concert at a major Mexico City venue at the last minute. Some of the group's teenage fans wrote in blogs that their parents had refused to let them out to go to the concert because of the flu.

The army handed out blue surgical masks on city streets to everyone from taco sellers to mothers on public transport and one Mexico City pharmacy said ran out of surgical face masks after selling 300 in a day.

"I think it's more panic than anything," said bus driver Salvador Gonzalez as rush-hour passengers piled onto his bus. "You have to go to work. Most people don't have a choice."

Health officials were not ready to declare a pandemic -- a global epidemic of a new and deadly disease such as flu.

"So far there has not been any change in the pandemic threat level," Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters.

But the human-to-human spread of the new virus raised fears of a major outbreak. Mexico's government warned people to avoid crowds, to not share food, glasses or cutlery or shake hands or kiss when greeting and to wash their hands frequently.

"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 government worker who fetched her son from a public kindergarten that was closing.

Genetic analysis showed the disease is a never-before-seen mixture of swine, human and avian viruses, according to the CDC.

The cases reported in Mexico included four in Mexicali on the border with California.

Most of the dead were aged between 25 and 45, a health official said. It was a worrying sign as seasonal flu can be more deadly among the very young and very old but a hallmark of pandemics is that they affect healthy young adults.

The WHO said the virus appears to be susceptible to Roche AG's flu drug Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir, but not to older flu drugs such as amantadine.

Canada has not found any cases of the flu but its chief public health officer, David Butler-Jones, called the outbreak "very concerning" and said Canada was paying close attention.

The CDC's Besser said it could be too late to contain the outbreak given its spread so far. "There are things that we see that suggest that containment is not very likely," he said.

But there is no reason to avoid Mexico, the CDC and the WHO said. "CDC is not recommending any additional recommendations for travelers to California, Texas and Mexico," said Besser.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend