Friday, April 24, 2009
Print ShareThisMexico City closed schools across the metropolis of 20 million Friday after at least 16 people died and more than 900 others fall ill from what health officials suspect is a new strain of swine flu. World health officials worried that it could mark the start of a flu pandemic.
The World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland said at least 57 have died in the outbreak, although it wasn't yet clear if this larger number of deaths was due to swine flu.
"We are very, very concerned," said Thomas Abraham, a spokesman for the agency. "We have what appears to be a novel virus and it has spread from human to human." If international spread is confirmed, that meets WHO's criteria for raising the pandemic alert level, he added.
Abraham said WHO on Friday raised their internal alert system, allowing them to divert more money and personnel to dealing with the outbreak. "It's all hands on deck at the moment." Abraham said.
Mexico's Health Secretary, Jose Cordova, said only 16 of the deaths have been confirmed to have been caused by the new strain, through testing at the government's laboratories. Samples from 44 other people who died were still being tested. The health department put the total number of people sickened at around 943 nationwide.
Cordova said samples were sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, to determine whether it's the same virus infecting seven people in Texas and California. As of now, tests show the flu is a "new, different strain ... that originally came from pigs."
"We certainly have 60 deaths that we can't be sure are from the same virus, but it is probable," Cordova told MVS radio in Mexico City.