Mexico City on alert over swine flu scare

Swine flu is usually diagnosed only in pigs or people in regular contact with them.
Mexican officials closed all schools Friday in the capital city in an effort to combat the swine flu virus that has killed dozens in Mexico and infected eight people in the United States.

Authorities also closed schools in Mexico in an effort to quell the virus, which has killed at least 68 people in the country, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. Other public institutions, including museums and government offices, were also closed in Mexico City. Mexican soldiers distributed surgical masks to pedestrians and motorists in downtown Mexico City on Friday, according to state-run media. President Felipe Calderon canceled a scheduled trip to the northern state of Chihuahua and stayed in Mexico City to address concerns on the virus. “We know the seriousness of the problem,” Calderon said. ” I know that we will be able to solve this. This is our obligation.” More than 1,000 people have fallen ill in Mexico City in a short period of time, U.S. health experts said. Health officials said they are concerned that the swine flu virus matches samples of a virus that has killed people in Mexico. “This situation has been developing quickly,” said acting Centers for Disease Control Director Richard Besser. “This is something we are worried about.” Watch how Mexico City deals with swine flu outbreak » New York health officials announced Friday they are testing about 75 students at a Queens school for swine flu after the students exhibited flu-like symptoms this week. A team of state health department doctors and staff went to the St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens on Thursday after the students reported cough, fever, sore throat, aches and pains. There have been no confirmed cases of swine flu there. The tests results are expected as early as Saturday. Eight cases have been reported in the U.S. since Tuesday. Besser said all of the eight U.S. patients have recovered. Watch for more on the U.S. cases » None of the U.S. patients had direct contact with pigs, though a patient who lives in San Diego had traveled to Mexico, the CDC said. Besser said officials had not found common exposure or behavior among the eight U.S. patients. “We have not seen any linkage at all between the cases in Texas and California,” he said. The new virus has genes from North American swine influenza, avian influenza, human influenza and a form of swine influenza normally found in Asia and Europe, said Nancy Cox, chief of the CDC’s Influenza Division.

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Swine flu is caused by a virus similar to a type of flu virus that infects people every year but is a strain typically found only in pigs — or in people who have direct contact with pigs. There have, however, been cases of person-to-person transmission of swine flu, the CDC said. Officials found evidence, for example, that a patient transmitted the disease to health care workers during a 1988 apparent swine flu infection among pigs in Wisconsin. Experts think coughing, sneezing and contaminated surfaces spread the infection among people. From December 2005 to February of this year, 12 human cases of swine flu were documented. The new strain of swine flu has resisted some antiviral drugs, officials said. The human influenza vaccine’s ability to protect against the new swine flu strain is unknown, and studies are ongoing, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s interim deputy director for science and public health program. There is no danger of contracting the virus from eating pork products, she said. Canada is also testing samples from Mexico “and has placed a travel alert for travel to Mexico,” CDC spokesman David Daigle told CNN by e-mail.

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The United States had not issued any travel alerts or advisories by late Friday, but some private companies issued their own warnings. “Public health officials in Mexico began actively looking for cases of respiratory illness upon noticing that the seasonal peak of influenza extended into April, when cases usually decline in number,” said an alert Friday by the International SOS, a medical and consulting company.