WHO Says No Sign Flu Outbreak Slowing

Maggie Fox, Reuters, April 29, 2009

A Mexican toddler in Texas has died of the new swine flu virus, the first confirmed death outside Mexico, as the World Health Organization said the outbreak showed clear signs of spreading around the world.

Nearly a week after the threat first emerged in Mexico, Spain reported the first case in Europe of swine flu in a person who had not been to Mexico, underscoring the threat of person-to-person transmission.

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With Germany and Austria reporting cases, bringing the number of affected countries to 9, Fukuda said the WHO was moving closer to raising its pandemic alert to phase five, the second highest level possible.

U.S. officials said that a 22-month-old boy had died in Texas–the first confirmed U.S. swine flu death–but they added that he was on a family visit from Mexico, where up to 159 flu fatalities have been recorded.

Dr. Richard Besser, acting head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country now had 91 confirmed cases in 10 states from New York to California.

“We’re going to find more cases. We’re going to find more severe cases and I expect that we’ll continue to see additional deaths,” Besser said.

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Financial markets are keeping an eye on the spread of the virus, but so far the economic impact has largely been confined to the tourism and pharmaceutical industries.

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Spain’s El Mundo newspaper said the Spanish patient had recent contact with someone who had visited Mexico.

H1N1 swine flu poses the biggest risk of a large-scale pandemic since avian flu re-emerged in 2003, killing 257 people of 421 infected in 15 countries. In 1968 a “Hong Kong” flu pandemic killed about 1 million people globally, and a 1957 pandemic killed about 2 million.

The new strain contains genetic material from avian, swine and human viruses and appears to have evolved the ability to pass easily from one person to another.

It cannot be caught from eating pork products but Egypt ordered all its pigs to be slaughtered and some countries, led by Russia and China, have banned U.S. pork imports.

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SCHOOLS, PYRAMIDS CLOSED

The outbreak has deeply affected life in Mexico and ravaged tourism, a key earner. Mexico City was unusually quiet, with schools closed. Many parents took their children in to work.

All Mayan and Aztec pyramid ruins, dotted through central and southern Mexico, were closed until further notice.

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said more than 1,300 people were in hospitals, some of them seriously ill, out of a total of about 2,500 suspected cases.

“In the last few days there has been a decline (in cases),” he said. “The death figures have remained more or less stable.”

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