Mexico flu outbreak kills dozens
Dozens of people have died and hundreds of others have been infected in a viral outbreak in Mexico suspected to have been caused by a strain of swine flu. WHO thinks the virus may be behind 60 deaths in Mexico since mid-March . Mexican authorities have closed schools in affected areas and a vaccination campaign is being launched. Seven non-fatal cases of a new form of swine flu have also been confirmed in the southern United States.
A WHO spokesman said 12 out of 18 samples taken from the Mexican victims showed they died from a virus with the same genetic structure as the one found in the US. WHO would convene an emergency meeting in the "very near future" to determine whether the event constituted a "public health event of international concern", Gregory Hartl told Reuters news agency. The White House said it was following the US outbreak -- in California and Texas -- closely.
WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said "unusual end-of-season influenza
activity" was noticed in Mexico starting from the end of March .
Fifty-seven people had died in Mexico City from flu-like symptoms, she
said, and another 3 in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico. There are around 800 suspected cases, she said.
Health minister Jose Angel Cordova said the virus had "mutated from pigs and then at some point was transmitted to humans". The strain of flu had been confirmed in at least 16 deaths, with 44 others being tested, the government said. It urged people to take preventative measures such as not shaking hands or sharing crockery. All schools and universities in the capital and in nearby Mexico State have been closed, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs reports from Mexico City.
In the US, experts say the 7 people who fell ill across two states were
suffering from a new form of swine flu that combined pig, bird, and human viruses. CDC said none of the 7 victims had been in contact with pigs, which is how people usually catch swine flu. CDC spokeswoman Anne Schuchat said that officials did not yet know how widely the virus had spread. But she pointed out that all 7 victims had recovered. "So far this is not looking like very very severe influenza," she said.
While the world has been worried over the past few years about the impact of a pandemic originating from avian flu, the WHO say that swine flu has been implicated in the emergence of two of the last century's influenza pandemics, reports BBC science reporter Matt McGrath. Pigs can serve as a mixing vessel for both human and avian viruses that could combine to create a more virulent strain, our reporter adds.