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US school closures quicken as flu spreads

SCORES more schools had been shut down around the United States because of the A-H1N1 flu virus by the end of the week as federal officials closely watched developments with at least two dozen new cases reported.

President Barack Obama, whose administration has taken a high profile to offer reassurances and advice about the threat, expressed hopes the virus, known widely as swine flu, will run its course "like ordinary flus." Health officials suggested the virus now appeared to be less ominous than it had at first.

"I'm optimistic that we're going to be able to manage this effectively," Obama said yesterday.

But he said the federal government was preparing as if the worst was still to come so that it won't be caught flat-footed.

"This is a new strain of the flu virus, and because we haven't developed an immunity to it, it has more potential to cause us harm," Obama said in his radio and Internet address yesterday. "Unlike the various strains of animal flu that have emerged in the past, it's a flu that is spreading from human to human. This creates the potential for a pandemic, which is why we are acting quickly and aggressively."

The US government issued new guidance for schools with confirmed cases, saying they should close for at least 14 days because children can be contagious for seven to 10 days from when they get sick. That means parents can expect to have children at home for longer than previously thought.

The Education Department said that more than 430 schools had closed, affecting about 245,000 children in 18 states. That was about 100 more schools reported closed than on Thursday.

The latest developments in the flu scare came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the virus had been confirmed in more US states.

Confirmed cases had risen from 141 on Friday to 161 yesterday, the CDC said, with the flu reported in 21 states. The US death toll remained at one - the Mexican toddler who visited Texas with his family and died there.

Major US airlines announced plans to curtail flights into flu-ravaged Mexico.

US travelers have been advised to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico. Continental Airlines, the biggest US carrier to Mexico, has announced that it will halve the number of seats it sells to fly there.

Delta and United Airlines have also planned cuts.


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