Swine flu refers to influenza
caused by viruses endemic to pigs
By Laurence Iliff
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)
MEXICO CITY — Schools closed Friday for 6.1 million students across Mexico City and its suburbs, along with public museums and libraries, due to an unusually fierce swine flu outbreak that has killed at least 20 people. Another 40 deaths are being investigated for a connection to the virus.
Authorities in the capital — home to about half of the 18 million people in the metropolitan area — planned to hand out surgical-type masks on the crowded subway and public bus system, prohibit mass events and perhaps even cancel professional soccer matches in an attempt to contain the outbreak.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said tests show some of the Mexico victims died from the same new strain of swine flu that sickened eight people in Texas and California. The eight U.S. victims recovered.
The CDC said Americans need not avoid traveling to Mexico, as long as they take the usual precautions, such as frequent handwashing.
Scientists said the virus combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before.
Federal Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the virus had been clearly identified and specialists had determined that the best course of treatment is the use of specific anti-virals and not anti-flu vaccinations.
"We have the right medicine and in sufficient quantity for the cases that have already been presented and for those that could present themselves from this virus," he said at a news conference Friday.
He also said the number of newly reported cases was falling. About 1,000 cases nationwide had been reported so far.
"As of last night there were 60 deaths; 20 from this illness and 40 that are being analyzed," he said. "In the last 20 hours, there have been fewer reports of serious cases and fewer deaths."
He said schools would remain closed until further notice.
Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said public and private mass events would be suspended in coming days but suggested that nightclubs or similar private businesses would not be affected.
"I'm asking the population to avoid contacts to the extent possible and activities with agglomerations of people. We are not going to suspend economic activities, but we are trying to avoid greater contacts," he said at a news conference.
"What we have to do is avoid the propagation of the virus, its exponential growth, because it's a new virus," he said. "The next 10 days will be strategic in order to win the battle."
The city's health minister, Armando Ahued Ortega, said an emergency meeting had been called with the health ministers of the nation's 32 states who would determine whether professional soccer games would be suspended. Such games draw huge crowds across the country.
Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto of the state of Mexico, which wraps around the capital, said three people had died in the state, from a total of 44 cases, and 25 people remained hospitalized. He called on the population to keep calm as the government takes measures to control the outbreak.
Victor Manuel Torres, sub-director of epidemiology for the state's health institute, said the outbreak did not represent an epidemic in the state or the nation, "but it is an atypical situation." Last year, he said, there were only seven cases of flu in the state.
Since October, more than 800,000 children under the age of 3 and adults over 60 have received flu vaccines in the state, he said in the statement.
Despite warnings Friday, youths in Mexico City who had been given the day off from school congregated in the downtown areas such as the touristy Zona Rosa.
Street cafes in the upscale Polanco area were crowded with lunch patrons. And street vendors — who already circulate bacteria like e-coli and salmonella by handling both food and money — converged outside office buildings as normal.
"It's business as usual," said Gabriela Garcia, 22, who works at an office supplies and shipping store in Polanco.
She wore her blue mask around her neck — not covering her nose and mouth as it should — and expressed little faith it would prevent her from catching the flu from patrons or fellow commuters.
"It is something that could really hurt us because we have a lot of contract with the public, and the Metro (subway) is packed," she said.
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