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More cases of swine flu reported; WHO warns of 'health emergency'
A potentially deadly new strain of the swine flu virus cropped up in more places in the United States and Mexico on Saturday, in what the World Health Organization called "a public health emergency of international concern."
The most recent reports Saturday afternoon were of two confirmed cases of the virus in Kansas -- bringing the number of confirmed U.S. cases to 11.
Those joined nine confirmed cases in Texas and California and an apparent outbreak at a private school in New York City, where officials say eight children likely have the virus.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Saturday issued an executive decree detailing emergency powers of the Ministry of Health, according to the president's office.
The order gives the ministry with the authority to isolate sick patients, inspect travelers' luggage and their vehicles and conduct house inspections, the statement said.
The government also has the authority to prevent public gatherings, shut down public venues and regulate air, sea and overland travel.
The WHO's Gregory Hartl said the strain of the virus seen in Mexico -- which may have killed as many as 68 people there, according to that nation's health agency -- is worrisome because it has mutated from older strains.
"Any time that there is a virus which changes ... it means perhaps the immunities the human body has built up to dealing with influenza might not be adjusted well enough to dealing with this new virus," Hartl told CNN.
In Mexico, otherwise young and healthy people have been hit by the virus -- "one of the pieces of the puzzle that is worrying us," he said.
Mexico City has closed all of its schools and universities because of the virus, and the country's National Health Council said all Saturday's soccer games would be played without public audiences.
WHO has sent experts to Mexico at the request of the country's government, Chan said.
Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, was expected to officially announce the two cases later Saturday, a written statement from the state said.
All of the eight U.S. patients in Texas and California have recovered, Dr. Richard Besser, the acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday. Two of the cases were in Texas, near San Antonio, and six of the cases were in southern California, the CDC said.
U.S. health officials said Friday they were concerned that some cases of the swine flu virus, which has infected eight people in the United States, matched samples of a virus that may have killed at least 68 people in Mexico.
More than 1,000 people have been sickened in Mexico, and officials are trying to determine how many of those patients have swine influenza, the country's health minister, Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos, said.
U.S. health officials said Friday that some cases of the virus matched samples of the deadly Mexican virus.
On Saturday, New York's Bureau of Communicable Diseases said preliminary tests from a Queens school suggest that eight out of the nine cases of the virus found there are probably swine flu.
Dr. Don Weiss said the samples will be sent to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, to determine the subtype of the strain. The results will likely come back either Sunday or Monday.
He said the samples, which were taken from oral and nasal swabs from nine students at St. Francis Preparatory School, came back positive for "Type A" flu and the tests will need to determine the samples' subtype -- which could be swine flu.
He said up to 200 students at the school reported feeling ill.
"What's concerning about this is, first, that it's likely swine flu; second is that at this time it is spreading from person to person," Weiss said.
When the flu spreads person-to-person, instead of from animals to humans, it can continue to mutate, making it a tougher strain that is harder to treat or fight off.
The people sickened in Kansas are a man who traveled to Mexico on business and his wife, Eberhart-Phillips said. The man had flu-like symptoms when he returned and went to his doctor, and his wife got sick about three days later, officials said.
Neither of them was hospitalized, and one is still sick, he said.
The United States had not issued any travel warnings or quarantines by Saturday afternoon.
The Canadian Public Health Agency had issued a travel health notice, saying, "The Public Health Agency of Canada is tracking clusters of severe respiratory illness with deaths in Mexico."
Symptoms of swine flu include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the CDC said.
Besser advised people with flu-like symptoms to stay home from work or school and to see a doctor.