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Mexico Swine Flu Death Toll Rises To 19

Passengers wearing face masks as a precaution against swine flu walk inside a metro station in Mexico City, April 29, 2009.
AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
Mexico's health secretary says the number of confirmed swine flu cases has risen to 473, including 19 people who died.

The previous confirmed death toll was 16.

Jose Angel Cordova is urging citizens not to let their guard down against a virus that has killed 17 people and is spreading across Asia and Europe. Experts warned the virus could mutate and come back with a vengeance.

Cordova spoke at a news conference Saturday.

Cases outside Mexico suggest the new swine flu strain is weaker than feared. But governments moved quickly anyway to ban flights and prepare quarantine plans.

The swine flu caseload continued to grow elsewhere as well.

Pigs at a farm in Alberta, Canada caught the same swine flu strain that has sickened hundreds of humans around the world, Canadian officials said.

A farmhand who traveled to Mexico and fell ill upon his return apparently infected the pigs with the H1N1 influenza virus, said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer.

"So far, basically what we're seeing in the pig is the same strain as we see in the humans," Butler-Jones said.

"The concern is that if it's circulating in a pig herd, that any other humans that come onto the farm might be exposed and be at risk."

This is the first time this swine flu virus has been found in pigs.

The farm worker returned to Canada from Mexico on April 12 and had contact with the pigs two days later. About 220 pigs in the herd of 2,200 began showing signs of the flu on April 24, said the country's top veterinary officer, Dr. Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

All of the pigs are recovering or have recovered and the farm worker has also recovered.

One other farm worker subsequently fell ill. It's not yet known if that person caught the swine flu.

U.S. Schools Curtail Graduation Ceremonies

Just as college graduation season begins, some schools are doing what they can to keep travelers from around the country and beyond from spreading or catching the disease.

Some are making contingency plans and digging up preparation protocols, while others are warning sick people to stay home and eliminating touchy traditions. A few have canceled or postponed their most important spring event or even segregated graduates who might have swine flu.

Administrators at Cisco Junior College in central Texas canceled this year's graduation ceremony and will instead mail out diplomas because of fears over swine flu.

"It's a big deal, and now it's not going to happen," said Miranda Smith, who is graduating from Cisco's pre-pharmacy program. "I know a lot of people are really, really frustrated. It's definitely heartbreaking when everybody finds out."

Boston, home to dozens of colleges and universities, began its commencement season Friday with Northeastern University, which decided to forgo the traditional congratulatory handshake between deans and students.

Staff also put small bottles of green hand sanitizer beneath faculty chairs and hid larger bottles behind greenery on the stage. Graduates of the school's health sciences program swabbed their hands with the disinfectant after taking their seats.

Chris Tran, a 23-year-old getting his bachelor's degree in engineering, said nothing was going to stop him - or his family - from celebrating.

"They're going to be here no matter what," Tran said. "I'm the first in my family to graduate. Swine flu is the last thing on their mind."

Northeastern spokeswoman Renata Nyul noted that avoiding a handshake is a simple way to avoid one of the most common methods of contracting the flu. The school didn't consider canceling commencement, which drew 16,000 people.

"The best you can do is really just take all the precautions you can and remind people and help spread the information," Nyul said.

Northeastern also asked those with flu-like symptoms to stay away - a suggestion also made by Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the city's Public Health Commission. Ferrer also said schools should suggest that people with compromised immune systems also consider not attending commencement ceremonies in the coming weeks.

Other schools have taken much bolder action.

Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania will hold a separate graduation Saturday for 22 students who officials fear might have been exposed to the swine flu during a school trip to Mexico.

The 22 students, all education majors, aren't sick but have been told to limit contact with others.

"To allow them to be exposed to 3,000 to 5,000 people would be an error on our part," university spokesman Karl Schwab said.

Texas State Technical College, West Texas, also postponed Saturday's commencement until August, deciding to eliminate the potential risk of having hundreds of people from across the state travel to the school.

But more universities are putting off making any changes until their commencements draw closer and more is known about the spread of the swine flu.

At the University of Delaware, where at least four confirmed cases and several more probable cases of swine flu were reported by Friday morning, officials had made no changes to their May 30 commencement.

"We're really a month away," noted university spokesman John Brennan.

At Amherst College in western Massachusetts, where at least two students have probable cases of the disease and eight people known to have swine flu are being isolated on campus, administrators said it could be weeks before they make any decisions about their May 24 graduation.

University spokeswoman Caroline J. Hanna said officials have met daily to review new information. They recently canceled weekend parties where people could share food or drinks.

"There are a lot of celebrations, a lot of things we'd like to continue with," she said. But "the health of the campus community and the surrounding community is the most important thing."

For most proud parents, though, the large crowds and stern warnings will do little to stop them from watching their sons and daughters complete an education that started years before.

"When you pay $160,000, you want to watch your kid come and graduate," said Dave Amanti, of Westfield, whose son Nicholas was graduating from Northeastern with a business degree.

CDC: 1/3 Of U.S. Flu Cases Visited Mexico

About a third of the confirmed U.S. cases of swine flu are people who had been to Mexico and likely picked up the infection there, a federal health official said Saturday.

But investigations indicate many cases are getting the illness here, and that it probably still is spreading, said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a press briefing, CDC officials said the agency knows of confirmed cases from 21 states.

The CDC's count of 160 confirmed cases released Saturday is believed to already be outdated. Some states can now do their own tests for the swine flu virus and don't have to send samples to the CDC. States have reported about a dozen more cases, bringing the national total to more than 170.

The swine flu cases range in age from 1 to 81, but the majority are people younger than 20, said Schuchat, the CDC's interim deputy director for science and public health. Most U.S. cases have been relatively mild; only 13 people have been hospitalized.

According to reports received from the CDC, World Health Organization, and other
government officials, there are 16 confirmed deaths in Mexico and one in the United States.

As of Saturday there are 176 confirmed cases reported in the U.S.; 443 in Mexico; 56 in Canada; 15 in Spain; 13 in Britain; six in Germany; four in New Zealand; two in Israel, France and South Korea; and one each in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hong Kong, Denmark and the Netherlands.

States with confirmed cases include New York (50); Texas (28); California (24);
South Carolina (16); New Jersey (7); Massachusetts (8); Maine (6); Arizona (4); Delaware (4); Wisconsin (3); Indiana (3); Illinois (3); Kansas (2); Colorado (2); Virginia (2); Michigan (2); Florida (2); New Hampshire (1); Utah (1); Iowa (1); Ohio (1); Connecticut (1); Kentucky (1); Missouri (1); Minnesota (1); Nebraska (1); and Nevada (1).

Swine Flu Scare Doesn't Stop Mexico's Drug War

It seemed an odd precaution, given his risky way of life: A man targeted by drug traffickers was wearing a germ-blocking surgical mask when his bullet-riddled body was found.

Even people caught in Mexico's murderous drug war are heeding advice to use face masks as protection against swine flu.

Soldiers and police battling the cartels are also donning masks - and they're putting them on those they arrest, too. Those include Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa, alleged leader of the dreaded Zeta gang of cartel hit men.

The battle against the virus has strangled normal life in Mexico, closing most businesses, government offices and public events. But drug traffickers are evidently not joining the shutdown.

In the past week, more than 28 people have been killed in Mexico's deadliest city, Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas. The police chief of Piedras Negras, across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, was assassinated last weekend as news of the swine flu began to instill a new fear among Mexicans.

Drug violence has killed more than 10,700 people across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched his government's offensive against the cartels after taking office in 2006.

In Remembrance Of H1N1

Some churches in the Washington, D.C. area are taking steps to protect against the spread of the swine flu virus.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington and the Baltimore archdiocese are recommending that Communion wine not be served in a common cup. The Arlington diocese also says churches should consider suspending the "Sign of Peace" handshake exchanged during Mass and replacing it with a bow or other gesture.

The Washington archdiocese is recommending that churches have hand sanitizer available for those who distribute Communion wafers and wine.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington is leaving the decision of whether to use a common Communion cup up to individual parishes. The diocese has distributed a study that suggests drinking from a common cup is less risky than airborne infection.

Idaho School Bars Soap

Parents in Jerome, Ida., are blasting administrators at Jerome Middle School who removed soap from a boys' bathroom following vandalism even though hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease.

Parents say the soap ban is especially worrisome considering the continued spread of swine flu in the nation.

"It's a huge deal," April Jarvis, a parent of a seventh-grader, told The Times-News. "Had I known there was no soap I wouldn't have sent him to school."

Jarvis said the school's solution created a health risk.

"This punishment is worse," she said. "It's not taking care of the problem and creates a bigger problem. Everyone gets sick."

Iinvestigator Dan Kriz said school administrators told him they removed the soap after students emptied dispensers onto the floor.

"I said 'What about putting in bar soap?"' Kriz said. "But apparently that hasn't happened."

The Idaho State Department of Education says lavatories are required to offer soap.


H1N1 Briefs:

  • The U.S. Education Department said Friday that more than 430 schools had closed, affecting about 245,000 children in 18 states.
  • Mexicans on Friday began a forced five-day holiday to curb spread of swine flu.
  • WHO says it will stop using the term "swine flu," to avoid confusion over any danger posed by pigs, and will instead refer to the virus by its scientific name: "H1N1 influenza A."
  • Airlines have reduced or canceled service to Mexico.
  • Singapore announced a weeklong quarantine for anyone arriving from Mexico. A Hong Kong hotel was sealed after a Mexican tourist who recently arrived fell ill with confirmed case of swine flu.

    2009 H1N1 Flu Outbreak Map:
    This is a map depicting confirmed and suspected cases of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, with contributors from all over the world, from a variety of backgrounds including health, journalism, technology.

    View 2009 H1N1 Flu Outbreak Map in a larger map