Swine Flu Outbreak Declared An Emergency

April 26, 2009|By Tracy Wilkinson and Thomas H. Maugh II | Tracy Wilkinson and Thomas H. Maugh II,Tribune Newspapers

MEXICO CITY - International officials declared the swine flu outbreak in Mexico and the U.S. a "public health emergency" Saturday as new cases were reported north and south of the border and fears grew of a global epidemic.

The Mexican government indicated Saturday that the outbreak was more severe than originally acknowledged, announcing that more than 1,300 people are believed to have been infected. The virus, which the top official of the World Health Organization said had "pandemic potential," is now suspected in the deaths of 81 people here, Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said.

Also Saturday, the Mexican government gave itself extraordinary powers to be able to search private homes for sick people, intercept them on public transport, quarantine them and force them to have treatment.

The emergency decree follows measures that have included the closing of schools, museums, clubs and theaters. Hundreds of concerts, private parties and other events were canceled as federal and local officials urged the public to avoid large gatherings.

A new case was discovered Saturday in California, and two were discovered in Kansas, bringing to 11 the number of confirmed U.S. incidents of the disease. All patients have recovered.

Eight schoolchildren in New York have a form of swine flu, the exact form still being determined.

No cases had been reported in Maryland as of Saturday, said John M. Colmers, the state's secretary of health and mental hygiene. He added that the state has been in contact with health professionals to make sure that hospitals and clinics are on alert.

John M. Colmers, secretary of health and mental hygiene, said no cases of swine flu have been reported in Maryland, but that health officials are "monitoring it closely." He said the state agency is updated daily on the situation, and has been in touch with health professionals in the state to make sure that hospitals and clinics are on alert.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the unique strain of swine flu a "public health emergency of international concern." In London, a British Airways cabin crew member was taken to a hospital as a precaution after developing flu-like symptoms on a flight from Mexico City, the airline said Saturday, according to Reuters.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Dr. Anne Schuchat said that the agency expected more cases and that containment was "not feasible."

CDC field teams are now on the scene assisting local investigators in California, Texas and Mexico, she said.

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said Saturday that the outbreak "has pandemic potential" but noted that it is too early to predict whether a pandemic will occur.

One of the big unknowns in this outbreak is why the disease is so deadly in Mexico but has been milder in the U.S. CDC officials cited several possibilities, including inferior environmental and general health conditions in Mexico, or a slightly different pathogen in the strain.

The Sun staff contributed to this article.

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