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Stable or not, many questions remain about why disease kills

THE leader of an international team helping Mexico face down the A-H1N1 flu outbreak said it should soon learn whether the epidemic is really stabilizing in Mexico, but that many key questions about how the disease kills still need to be answered.

Dr Steve Waterman, the head of a team from the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also warned against taking false comfort from the fact that only one person had died outside Mexico, saying more deaths are likely as the epidemic evolves.

"That is the big question: is it stabilizing or not? And it is too early to say, but I think we are getting systems in place where we are going to be able to get a handle on this soon," said Waterman, standing amid CDC doctors and specialists at the Mexico City nerve center where officials are confronting the outbreak.

Mexican officials have been cautiously optimistic that the worst is over, even as the government took additional protective measures on Friday with a five-day shutdown of all non-essential government and private business.

Waterman, whose team is working with Mexican officials, said the scientists were trying to determine the mortality rate of the virus, and didn't yet know where it started or why. But he and other experts said it appeared the outbreak could have been far more deadly, particularly in the teeming streets of Mexico's capital.

"The virus has been circulating for over a month in a city of 20 million of high population density. It could have been much worse," said CDC epidemiologist Marc-Alain Widdowson.

Waterman agreed that the virus didn't appear to match the ferocity of past killers. "Most people think it is unlikely this is going to be as virulent as the 1918 epidemic.

"From what we know so far, it doesn't seem like it is as virulent," he said.

Asked why the swine flu death rate is so high in Mexico while only one person is known to have died elsewhere, Waterman said that was one of the key questions they were trying to answer. One of the main reasons, they believe, is that there are a lot more people in Mexico who are sick than in other countries.

Friday was Mexico's Labor Day, which is normally a raucous day in the capital as the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard fills with hundreds of thousands of boisterous marchers but only a few tourists were evident.


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