The number of deaths in Mexico from the swine-flu outbreak has reached 149 and the number of U.S. cases has doubled to 40 in the past 24 hours, officials said Monday afternoon.
Officials also urged people across the world not to panic, saying the rising numbers were expected as the virus peaks and more people are tested. However, they also told people to begin preparing if the worst is yet to come.
“I urge people to lean forward,” said Dr. Richard E. Besser, acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Businesses, schools, churches need to get ready. It’s time to review your plans.”
Dr. Besser said the additional 20 cases came from New York City’s St. Francis Preparatory School, where eight students were confirmed over the weekend to have the A/H1N1 swine flu strain.
The students at the Queens, N.Y.-school had spent spring break in the Mexican resort city of Cancun. Roughly 75 of them complained of flu-like symptoms last week.
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Right now, only five U.S. states have confirmed cases: California, with seven; Kansas, with two; New York, with 28; Ohio, with one; and Texas, with two. There are no reported deaths in the U.S. Schools in California and Texas will be closed for several days in response to infections among students.
In a day in which information about the virus came from around the world practically every few minutes, Mexico Health Minister Jose Cordova announced Monday morning that the additional 46 people had died since Sunday.
He also said 756 people remain hospitalized in Mexico, where the virus appears to have started and the first person died April 12. As a result, the country will close its entire school system until May 5.
Elsewhere around the world, six confirmed cases surfaced in Canada. Some of those infected were students who began to feel sick while in Mexico.
New Zealand said swine flu had sickened as many as 13 students who took school trips to Mexico. Spain reported its first confirmed swine flu case Monday and said another 17 people were suspected of having the disease.Scotland has two cases, according to news reports. And Brazil said it is observing some suspected cases.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said no additional cases have been reportedin the cityoutside those at the school. He also said those infected are improving and that no New York City hospital intensive-care unit has a swine-flu patient.
Barack Obama said early Monday that he is “closely monitoring” the virus, though he issued no additional orders beyond the “public health emergency” declared over the weekend.
“Obviously this is a cause for concern … but not a cause for alarm,” Mr. Obama said in Washington, at the National Academy of Sciences’ annual meeting.
The president said the public health emergency declared Sunday was a “precautionary tool” in response to the virus.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the declaration “is standard operating procedure and allows us to free up federal, state and local agencies and their resources for prevention and mitigation.”
The declaration also allows the U.S. government to release its stockpile of flu-treatment drugs. The first shipments will go the five states and to military personnel.
She said Monday that visitors entering the U.S. will be given cards warning them about the virus and telling them how to seek treatment. She also said those arriving at U.S. ports who appear to show flu-like symptoms will get a second, more thorough evaluation before being allowed to enter the country.
Dr. Besser urged people to continue to wash their hands and said evidence shows the surgical masks seen on people in Mexico are not that effective as a prevention method.
Homeland Security has issued a travel alert for Mexico and said the alert will remain until the virus is brought under control. However, the U.S. government has issued no travel restrictions for Mexico.
Dr. Besser said the U.S. will “continue to evaluate the situation in Mexico and if need be we will increase the warnings based on what the situation warrants.”
Mr. Obama also said he is getting routine updates from such agencies as the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization.
The WHO, which is part of the United Nations, said Monday morning it could decide later today whether to raise its pandemic alert level as a result of the increasing number of confirmed cases.
Several major international airlines — including Mexicana, United, American and Air Canada — said on their Web sites that passengers who booked flights either to or via Mexico City may reschedule their flights or travel dates without penalty.
In Mexico City, large gatherings were virtually nonexistent Sunday — church services were canceled, and markets and restaurants were closed. According to news reports, the streets of what is usually one of the world’s busiest cities were near-deserted and people were wearing masks; the Mexican army distributed 6 million of them across the country.
The World Bank announced a $25 million loan to Mexico for immediate aid and $180 million in long-term assistance in response to the outbreak.
Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the administration wouldn’t rule out travel advisories to Mexico if the flu outbreak worsens.
“Let’s just put it this way: The president is taking this very seriously,” Ms. Jarrett said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Ms. Jarrett said the president did not get sick during or after his trip to Mexico this month.
Ms. Napolitano said a quarter of the 50 million treatments of anti-viral vaccines in the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile will be made available to state governments.
Ms. Napolitano added that people can help contain the spread of the flu by taking steps such as routine hand-washing and staying home if sick.