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Monday, May 4, 2009

Flu spreads through Europe, Latin America

MEXICO CITY: Influenza A(H1N1), popularly termed swine flu, extended its reach through Europe and Latin America, with at least five countries reporting new cases on Sunday. Health experts were investigating a case of the virus jumping from a person to pigs, trying to determine if the disease was reaching a new stage.

Hong Kong kept 350 people under quarantine in a hotel as a precaution even though no new infections appeared in Asia, and Egypt’s attempt to kill all pigs as a precaution against the disease prompted pig owners to clash with police who were helping to seize their animals for slaughter.

So far the epidemic has killed 19 in people in Mexico and one toddler in the U.S. and has spread to 18 countries worldwide — but experts believe the actual spread is much wider.

Global caseload is nearing 800 and growing. Death toll at 20; 19 in Mexico, 1 in U.S.

Mexico’s Health Secretary said 11 people were suspected to have died from the virus in the previous 24 hours. The alarming news came after the epidemic’s toll in Mexico appeared to have been levelling off.

The global caseload was nearing 800 and growing — the vast majority in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. Colombia on Sunday reported South America’s first confirmed case a day after Costa Rica reported the first in Central America.

The Spanish Health Ministry said the country now had 20 confirmed cases — making it the European nation hardest hit by the virus. Britain, Italy and Germany also reported new cases.

Hong Kong — which was criticised for delaying quarantine measures during the SARS outbreak — sealed the downtown Metropark Hotel, where a sickened Mexican tourist had stayed, trapping 350 guests and employees.

Scientists warn that the virus could mutate into a deadlier form. Right now, one of the biggest hurdles is a lack of information from Mexico. A team of international and Mexican virus sleuths is trying to piece together an epidemiological picture of who’s dying and where transmission began, while also uncovering just how it is attacking people with severe illness. But details are emerging slowly.

Late Saturday, Mexico’s confirmed cases jumped by about 25 to 473, including the 19 deaths. A Mexican toddler also died in Texas days ago, for a worldwide total of 20.

President Barack Obama urged caution.

Pablo Kuri, a Mexican epidemiologist, said three of the dead were children: a 9-year-old girl, a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy. Four were older than 60. The other nine were between 21 and 39 — unusual ages for people to die from flu because they have stronger immune systems.

The World Health Organisation earlier announced that a pandemic was imminent, but it has decided against declaring a full pandemic alert. In the Canadian province of Alberta, health and agriculture officials said about 220 pigs on a farm were quarantined after being infected by a worker who had recently returned from Mexico. The pigs are all recovering in the first documented case of the H1N1 human flu being passed to another species.

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