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    Global flu epidemic fear grows, more U.S.

    Reuters
    26.04.2009 - 15:17 | Son Güncelleme: 26.04.2009 - 15:17

    MEXICO CITY - A new flu virus that has killed up to 68 people in Mexico could start a global epidemic, the World Health Organization warned on Saturday, as the disease appeared to be spreading in the United States.

    Mexico's crowded capital of 20 million people, where most of the victims have died, hunkered down in fear of the swine flu and the government said it would isolate sick people if necessary.
      
    Eight New York City schoolchildren caught a type A influenza virus that was likely to be the swine flu, the city's health commissioner said.
      
    Kansas state health officials said two people there had swine flu and a seventh case appeared in California near the Mexican border, taking the number of confirmed U.S. cases to 11.
      
    The World Health Organization, or WHO, declared the outbreaks a "public health event of international concern" and said they could cause a pandemic -- a global epidemic of serious disease.
      
    The last flu pandemic was in 1968 when "Hong Kong" flu killed about a million people globally.
      
    A new pandemic would deal a major blow to a world economy already knocked into its worst recession in decades by the crisis in financial markets.
      
    In Mexico City, parents canceled kids' parties, bars were closed and residents stocked up on DVDs as people stayed home for the weekend to avoid contamination by a virus that has never been seen before.
      
    "I think it's worse than they're telling us," said 35-year-old Lidia Diaz, sniffling and wearing a surgical mask as she headed to a clinic in the capital.
      
    Mexican President Felipe Calderon issued an emergency decree giving the government special powers to run tests on sick people and order them to be isolated.
      
    WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan urged all countries to boost their surveillance for any unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.
      
    "It has pandemic potential because it is infecting people," Chan said in Geneva. "However, we cannot say on the basis of currently available laboratory, epidemiological and clinical evidence whether or not it will indeed cause a pandemic." 
      
    A British Airways cabin crew member was taken to a London hospital as a precaution after developing flu-like symptoms on a flight from Mexico City. It was the first such reported precautionary measure in Britain.
      
    HONG KONG, JAPAN CHECKS
    As far away as Hong Kong and Japan, health officials stepped up checks of travelers with flu-like symptoms, and the CDC said it was actively looking for new infections in the United States.
      
    "We are worried and because we are worried we are acting aggressively on a number of fronts," the CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters. "The situation is serious."
      
    Mexico has said the flu had killed 20 people and could be to blame for 48 more deaths. In all, more than 1,000 suspected cases have been reported nationwide. Most of the dead were aged 25 to 45, a worrying sign because a hallmark of past pandemics has been high fatalities among healthy young adults.
      
    The new flu strain -- a mixture of swine, human and avian flu viruses -- is still poorly understood.
      
    Mexico has shut schools and museums and canceled hundreds of public events in the capital to prevent further infections.
      
    A significant worsening of the outbreak could hit tourism and consumer spending in a country already weakened by the global economic crisis and an army-led war on drug cartels.
      
    No countries or global bodies have issued travel bans to Mexico, but some countries alerted travelers to check websites for information on the flu outbreak.
      
    The WHO says the virus from 12 of the Mexican patients is genetically the same as a new strain of swine flu, designated H1N1, seen in eight people in California and Texas. All of the eight have recovered.

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