MEXICO shuts some schools amid deadly flu outbreak
Posted: April 25th, 2009 - 9:09pm
MEXICO CITY -- Mexican officials, scrambling to control a swine flu outbreak that has killed as many as 61 people and infected possibly hundreds more in recent weeks, closed museums and shuttered schools for millions of students in and around the capital on Friday, and urged people with flu symptoms to stay home from work.
“We’re dealing with a new flu virus that constitutes a respiratory epidemic that so far is controllable,” Mexico’s health minister, José Ángel Córdova, told reporters after huddling with President Felipe Calderón and other top officials on Thursday night to come up with an action plan. He said the virus had mutated from pigs and had at some point been transmitted to humans.
The new strain contains gene sequences from North American and Eurasian swine flus, North American bird flu and North American human flu, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A similar virus has been found in the American Southwest, where officials have reported eight nonfatal cases.
Most of Mexico’s dead were young, healthy adults, and none were over 60 or under 3 years old, the World Health Organization said. That alarms health officials because seasonal flus cause most of their deaths among infants and bedridden elderly people, but pandemic flus — like the 1918 Spanish flu, and the 1957 and 1968 pandemics — often strike young, healthy people the hardest.
Mexican officials promised a huge immunization campaign in the capital in the coming days, while urging people to avoid large gatherings and to refrain from shaking hands or greeting women with a kiss on the right cheek, as is common in Mexico.
Mexico’s flu season is usually over by now, but health officials have noticed a significant spike in flu cases since mid-March. The W.H.O. said there had been 800 cases in Mexico in recent weeks, 60 of them fatal, of a flulike illness that appeared to be more serious than the regular seasonal flu. Mexican officials said there were 943 possible cases.
Still, only a small number have been confirmed as cases of the new H1N1 swine flu, according to Gregory Hartl, a W.H.O. spokesman. Mexican authorities confirmed 16 deaths from swine flu and said 45 others were under investigation, most of them in the Mexico City area. The C.D.C. said that eight nonfatal cases had been confirmed in the United States, and that it had sent teams to California and Texas to investigate.
“We are worried,” said Dr. Richard Besser, the acting head of the C.D.C. “We don’t know if this will lead to the next pandemic, but we will be monitoring it and taking it seriously.”
There is no point in trying to use containment measures in the United States, he said, because the swine flu virus has already appeared from San Antonio to San Diego, without any obvious connections among cases. Containment measures usually work only when a disease is confined to a small area, he said.