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Published:April 27th, 2009 09:16 EST
Swine Flu Brings Daily Activities To A Standstill; Fears of Pandemic Heighten

Swine Flu Brings Daily Activities To A Standstill; Fears of Pandemic Heighten

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Services were cancelled all throughout the predominantly Roman Catholic Mexico City where fears of a swine flu epidemic caused many of the city`s institutions to shut down, bringing daily life to a standstill.

Health workers monitored airports, bus stations, and other transportation hubs for people afflicted with the new widespread strain of the swine flu that the medical community suspects may lead to worldwide pandemic.

Two more people have died from the emerging strain overnight in the overpopulated capital city with three other death not yet confirmed as a result of the swine flu, according Mexico City`s mayor Marcelo Ebrardo. 73 more were admitted to area hospitals with some form of influenza that health professionals predict to be the deadlier cross-genetic strain.

Most of the individuals who died of swine flu sought medical attention when the disease was well into its advanced stages, City Health Secretary Armando Ahued said. He urged those with flu-like symptoms to seek medical care immediately.

President Felipe Calderon appropriated full control of quarantining people infected with the burgeoning swine flu strain to curtail the rates of disease across the country and internationally. Mexico`s health authorities claim the new H151 strain has killed close to 86 people and has infected approximately 1,400 in the country since the first case was reported on April 13th.

The president`s efforts coincide with a slew of 20 confirmed cases in the five U.S. states California, Texas, Kansas, Ohio, and New York, and cases of swine flu are now being diagnosed in Canada, France, and as far away as New Zealand.

On Sunday, Chief Public Health officer Dr. Robert Strang for the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, said four students from King`s-Edgehill School in Nova Scotia from the ages of 12 to 17 were confirmed to have swine flu. Like in the U.S., all four are recovering and as the health official reported, all four only suffered from "very mild" cases of the new flu strain. Canada health authorities attended a briefing on Sunday in Ottawa to address the swine flu crisis.

President Barack Obama declared a national public health emergency today, which has released stockpiles of anti-flu medications for federal and local governments to distribute to health care facilities and will also allow flu tests to be given easier.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention verified that about 100 students at St. Francis Prep High School in Queens are infected with the new flu strain. Some of the infected students went on vacation to Cancun for spring break two weeks ago.

New York City health officials maintained that eight cases were "probable", but rescinded their decision when flu tests later confirmed they were infected with swine flu. U.S. health workers report that all the cases in the states are mild, and those sickened are predicted to make a full recovery. Officials can`t explain why the strain doesn`t seem as potent in the United States as elsewhere.

Mexican authorities have not announced if cases of the strain were discovered in the Caribbean resort of Cancun.

In concert with President Calderon`s mandate, Mexican soldiers and health workers screened the capital`s subway transit system for anyone displaying flu-like symptoms and offered surgical masks to passersby.

Those suffering from influenza-related symptoms, such as high fever, coughing, sore throat, respiratory congestion, and body aches, are cautioned to see a physician. Some of the more severe symptoms they were watching for, were vomitting and diarrhea.

Mexico City officially shut down many recreational events, including sports matches and concerts, to halt the spread of the disease, especially in congested situations conducive to wider spread infection. All zoos were closed and juvenile corrections centers were restricted as well.

Parishioners were turned away at Mexico City`s Metropolitan Cathedral, as almost 12 federal officers wearing surgical masks stood guard in front of the church`s doors to stave large congregations of people from entering after services were cancelled.

One follower, 22-year-old Johana Chavez said she arrived at the cathedral, ready to be confirmed only to see a coterie of police blocking passage into her place of worship, and a sign declaring that all Masses, baptisms, and confirmations were postponed until further notice.

"We are all Catholic so this is a big step, closing the cathedral," Chavez said. "The flu must be bad. I guess I`ll have to come back later."

As Mexico City authorities forced stores and businesses to close and hordes of Mexicans dashed to local hospitals to be checked out for their symptoms ranging in severity, Mexico seems to have stepped into action a moment too late to stymie the flu`s effects.

Mexico delayed its response time to the swine flu infected victims for days or even weeks after pinpointing the new strain that is a cross-hybrid virus combining avian, pig, and human elements that people have no natural antibodies to combat. In the meantime since the first flu-related death became linked to the new strain, Mexico has confirmed cases now spanning across 16 Mexican states with 24 new unverified cases being reported on Saturday alone.

The first flu-related fatality was reported on April 13th in southern Oaxaca state, but Mexico failed to submit the first of 14 mucus samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until five days after the initial death on April 18th. Their first test was sent to the CDCP at about the same time the government sent health workers to regional hospitals and other medical facilities to find more potential victims of influenza or pneumonia.

The teams of emergency health officials found that all the victims succumbing to the illness were aged 20 to 40: when mostly infants and the elderly are normally among those that die from the flu. The last pandemic strains to spread around the globe from 1957 until 1999 affected the young and those later in life. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that claimed over 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 people in the U.S. alone also affected young adults in a catastrophic fashion that has not yet been understood in the past ninety years.

On Saturday, the World Health Organization requested that all countries increase reporting and screening of the sickness. All Mexican citizens travelling internationally were screened for the disease on arriving into foreign countries.

Since the influx of cases were verified last week, the World Health Organization declared the new strain as a "public health emergency of international concern."

New Zealand announced that 10 students possibly have swine flu after they traveled to Mexico. The country`s Health Minister Tony Ryall reported that none of the infected students was gravely sick and that the flu tests for the children have not confirmed or denied the preliminary diagnosis.

Israel reported one unsubstantiated case of swine flu in the nation, according to the state`s Health Ministry.

France is currently testing four suspected cases, though health officials are unsure whether or not they`re connected to the swine flu.

Margaret Chan, director-general for the World Health Organization, claims the recent outbreak of the newest deadly flu strain has "pandemic potential". But she punctuated the claim that is merely a "potential" cause for justified fear and it`s still too early to judge whether it has the potency to become a pandemic.

The CDC sent a health team to Mexico to aid in the detection tests of those that are potential carriers of the virus: a program of which the country was devoid.

The Mexican government closed down schools in Mexico City and states in the country including San Luis Potosi until the tentative deadline of May 6th.

When U.S. labs discovered cases of the swine flu in California and Texas last week, Mexican officials were calling the parallel number of heightened cases of influenza in their country just the aftereffects of the late-season flu. Cases in Mexico spiked three times the normal rate of seasonal infection in late March and early April, but health spokespeople touted the abnormal rise as a late recovery from the typical seasonal flu season from December thru February.

Mexico Health Secretary Jose Cordova recognized that Mexican labs possessed the insufficient level of technology to discern the new strain that was overlooked in domestically conducted tests taken earlier.

Cordova, on responding to the question regarding why there have been so many fatalities in Mexico seeing that the United States haven`t reported any flu-related deaths, said that the U.S. cases concerned only children, who are not included in the deaths from the disease in his country. When asked about the cause for the odd strain`s inclination to strike young adults the hardest, he declined to comment on the reason.

He did say that some Mexican victims didn`t receive early testing and treatment for the disease, citing the extraordinarily high numbers of flu deaths.

Cordova said: "There are immune factors that are giving children some sort of defense, that is the only explanation we have."

By late mid-day on Thursday however, Mexico City Health Secretary Dr. Armando Ahued told the press that state authorities received word "from United States and Canada, the most important laboratories in the field, telling us this was a new virus."

Even with news of the debilitating flu sweeping over Mexico, many citizens can`t seek medical attention due to work responsibilities and continue to live their daily lives relatively unfazed.

Data obtained by bioscience experts have confirmed that as viruses blend genetic codes from humans and animals like chickens and pigs, the chances a pandemic may result from the new cross-bred virus greatly increases. With the homogenization of these variables, the human body is less likely to develop the suitable antibodies to ward off serious illness because of the new strain of an influenza subtype. And as each year`s flu dies off from the newest state of the art vaccine, its following year`s incarnation adapts and evolves to now-defunct medication. For years, medical professionals have been raising concerns over a mega-bug spreading across the world.