Page last updated at 08:45 GMT, Saturday, 25 April 2009 09:45 UK

Mexico bid to contain deadly flu


Face masks are handed out, while WHO says it is 'very concerned'

Mexican authorities have closed schools and public buildings in the capital in a bid to contain a new flu virus suspected of killing up to 60 people.

Public events were suspended and residents donned face masks as concern grew over the outbreak.

Health experts say tests so far seem to link it with a new swine flu virus that sickened eight in the southern US.

The World Health Organization's head flew urgently to Geneva to oversee the agency's handling of the outbreak.

Margaret Chan curtailed her visit to Washington to return to WHO's headquarters where an emergency committee would likely convene in the coming hours.

The WHO said it had prepared "rapid containment measures" in case they were needed.

"We are very, very concerned," said WHO spokesman Thomas Abraham.

"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."

The WHO is also sending its top experts to Mexico and the US to work with the local officials.

In the US, the White House said it was monitoring events.

US experts said they were taking the virus seriously and working to learn as much as possible about it.

But both the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the WHO said that there was no need at this point to issue travel advisories for parts of Mexico or the US.

US links

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova speaks in Mexico City (24/04/2009)
Mr Cordova said the virus has so far responded to anti-viral drugs

Mexican authorities suspect the virus may have been involved in the deaths of about 60 people, mostly in and around Mexico City, since mid-March.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said that 20 of those deaths were confirmed to be from the new swine flu strain and the rest were being analysed.

More than 900 other people are thought to have been infected.

Mr Cordova said antiviral drugs had so far proved to be effective in combating the illness and the WHO had not yet advised starting developing a vaccination programme.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City says the authorities have obtained a million doses of such treatment and are distributing them to hospitals across the country.

Officials said most of those killed so far were young adults - rather than more vulnerable children and the elderly.

On Friday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon cancelled a trip and convened his cabinet to coordinate a response.

Masks were being handed out to residents and reports said the streets were far quieter than usual.

Concern growing

Dr Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said that preliminary tests on seven out of 14 samples from patients in Mexico had matched the virus found in the US.

Eight people have fallen sick - six in California and two in Texas - with a virus that experts say is a new strain of swine flu. All eight have recovered and only one was admitted to hospital.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease found in pigs
Human cases usually occur in those who have contact with pigs
Human-to-human transmission is rare and such cases are closely monitored

Dr Besser said more information was needed to determine the extent of the threat posed by the virus but that "concern has grown" since Thursday as more information has come to light.

He said it was not yet known whether swine flu would lead to a major pandemic but that scientists around the world were monitoring developments and taking the threat seriously.

"At the early stages of an outbreak there is much uncertainty and probably more than everyone would like. Our guidelines and advice are likely to be interim and fluid and subject to change as we learn more," he said.

Both the CDC and the WHO say they plan to send experts to Mexico to help investigate the virus.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease which infects pigs. It does not normally infect humans, although sporadic cases do occur usually in people who have had close contact with pigs.

There have also been rare documented cases of humans passing the infection to other humans.

Such cases are monitored very closely because of fears that a new strain of swine flu with the ability to pass from person to person could spark a pandemic.

Are you in Mexico? Do you know someone who has been affected by the outbreak? Tell us your experiences by filling in the form below.

A selection of your comments may be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

Your E-mail address
Town & Country
Phone number (optional):

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Print Sponsor

Experts probe deadly Mexico flu
24 Apr 09 |  Americas
Q&A: Swine flu
24 Apr 09 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific