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Deadly Swine Flu Outbreak Forces Closure of All Mexican Schools


Mexican officials have suspended schools across the country until early May, as the nation deals with an outbreak of swine flu that is now believed to have killed 149 people there.

The health minister Monday announced the higher suspected death toll, which climbed to 149 from just over 100.

Mexico is the epicenter of the outbreak and more than 1,600 people in the country have been sickened.

Forty cases of the illness have been confirmed in the United States, while six have been confirmed in Canada. Spain confirmed its first case Monday, and suspected cases are being investigated in New Zealand, France, Israel and Scotland. Some of the ill have recently returned from visits to Mexico.

Governments around the world are urging caution with regard to travel to Mexico, and are screening travelers arriving from affected areas. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. government is issuing a travel advisory for Mexico out of an "abundance of caution."

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world body is concerned that the virus could cause a new influenza pandemic. He said it is unclear if it would be mild or severe, but noted with concern that those who died in Mexico were young, healthy adults.

Earlier in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States is closely monitoring cases of the swine flu in the U.S. He said the situation is cause for concern, but "not a cause for alarm."

Nations are racing to avoid both a pandemic and global hysteria, as more suspected cases of swine flu emerge.

The United States has declared a public health emergency to allow authorities to spend federal money and release stockpiles of anti-viral medication. Mr. Obama said the declaration was issued as a "precautionary tool."

The WHO says the virus is "a public health emergency of international concern" with "pandemic potential." The International Red Cross says it "will spare no resources in tackling" the threat.

On Monday, the European Union called for an urgent meeting of EU health ministers, which is likely to take place Thursday. The EU health commissioner recommended avoiding travel to affected areas.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee is holding an emergency hearing Thursday on the outbreak and the U.S. federal response.

The WHO says swine influenza, or "swine flu," is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs, caused by one of several swine influenza A viruses. It says symptoms are generally similar to seasonal flu, but that cases have ranged broadly from mild infections to severe pneumonia resulting in death.

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