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Retrieved by Pat Darnell
Mexico swine flu deaths spur global epidemic fears
By MARK STEVENSON Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
April 24, 2009, 5:31PM
MEXICO CITY — A unique strain of swine flu is the suspected killer of dozens of people in Mexico, where authorities closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters in the capital on Friday to try to contain an outbreak that has spurred concerns of a global flu epidemic.
The worrisome new virus — which combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before — also sickened at least eight people in Texas and California, though there have been no deaths in the U.S.
"We are very, very concerned," World Health Organization spokesman Thomas Abraham said. "We have what appears to be a novel virus and it has spread from human to human ... It's all hands on deck at the moment."
Closing schools across Mexico's capital of 20 million kept 6.1 million students home, as well as thousands of university students. All state and city-run cultural activities were suspended, including libraries, state-run theaters, and at least 14 museums. Private athletic clubs closed down and soccer leagues were considering canceling weekend games.
The closures were the first citywide shutdown of public gathering places since millions died in the devastating 1985 earthquake.
Mexico's response brought to mind other major outbreaks, such as when SARS hit Asia. At its peak in 2003, Beijing shuttered schools, cinemas and restaurants, and thousands of people were quarantined at home.
In March 2008, Hong Kong ordered more than a half-million students to stay home for two weeks because of a flu outbreak. It was the first such closure in Hong Kong since the outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.[MARK STEVENSON; Associated Press Writer © 2009; April 24, 2009, 5:31PM -- SOURCE]
"It's great they are taking precautions," said Lillian Molina, a teacher at the Montessori's World preschool in Mexico City, who scrubbed down empty classrooms with Clorox, soap and Lysol between fielding calls from worried parents.
U.S. health officials said the outbreak is not yet a reason for alarm in the United States. The five people sickened in California and three in Texas have all recovered.
It's unclear how the eight, who became ill between late March and mid-April, contracted the virus because none were in contact with pigs, which is how people usually catch swine flu. And only a few were in contact with each other.