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Mexico warns no kissing as 81 dead in swine flu outbreak
No kissing to say hello. No large crowds. No close contact.
That's the advice of the Mexican government as more and more people die of swine flu, which has turned into a "public health emergency of international concern," according to the World Health Organization.
The WHO advised all countries to be on the lookout for "unusual" outbreaks of flu, following an emergency meeting Saturday as the seriousness of the outbreak became clear.
By Sunday, 81 deaths had been deemed "likely linked" to a deadly new strain of the virus by health authorities in Mexico. Viral testing has confirmed 20 cases, said Dr. Jose A. Cordova Villalobos, Mexico's health secretary.
In Mexico City, the massive downtown Cathedral of Mexico City was open but Masses were not scheduled. Dozens of worshippers put on masks and went inside the church anyway to pray on their own.
The H1N1 strain of swine flu is usually associated with pigs. 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.
Symptoms of swine flu include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control have confirmed cases of swine flu in eight students at a New York preparatory school, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday. That brings the number of U.S. confirmed cases to 19. President Obama recently returned from a trip to Mexico, but has not shown any signs of flu-like symptoms, the White House said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the outbreak "is of great concern to the White House," and Obama is receiving regular briefings on the issue.
"I would tell people it's certainly not a time to panic," Gibbs told reporters. "If you're sick, stay home, get treatment, go see a doctor." But he added, "The government is taking all the steps it needs to and must do to take the precautions to deal with whatever size and scope we may be facing."
But in New Zealand, officials said 22 students and three teachers back from a three-week-long language trip to Mexico may have been infected with the swine flu virus.
The 25 students and teachers at Auckland's Rangitoto College returned to New Zealand via Los Angeles on Saturday.
Fourteen have shown flu-like symptoms, with four "more unwell than others," said Dr. Julia Peters, clinical director of Auckland Regional Public Health Service. It is not clear whether anyone else who was on the plane with them has shown signs of the disease.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said 10 students tested positive for influenza A. The specimens will be sent to WHO to determine whether it is H1N1 swine influenza.
H1N1 influenza is a subset of influenza A. The WHO results are expected back by midweek. The group remains quarantined at home.
"It certainly has not been confirmed that they have swine flu," said Dr. Craig Thornley of Auckland Regional Public Health Service. "We already have provisional information that some of the group have influenza A. We won't know if they have the type of influenza A that is swine flu."
A British Airways crew member developed flu-like symptoms during a flight from Mexico City to London and was tested for swine flu, but the results came back negative.
"I can confirm that the patient doesn't have swine flu," said Jonathan Street, a spokesman for Northwick Park Hospital in north London. "We have done all tests, and they all came back negative."
The flight attendant is back at work, British Airways told CNN.
Britain is not putting travel restrictions in place, according to British Airways and Heathrow airport operator BAA, and the country's Port Health Authority has no reason for concern over swine flu, BAA said.
The Mexico Tourist Board said Saturday there are no restrictions on travel to the country.
In Israel, doctors are running tests on a man who recently returned from Mexico with light flu symptoms.
U.S. health officials said Friday that some cases of the virus in the United States matched samples of the deadly Mexican virus.
All the patients have recovered or are expected to.
The panic over the virus prompted Canada to issue a travel health notice, saying the public health agency was "tracking clusters of severe respiratory illness with deaths in Mexico."
South Korea said it will test airline passengers arriving from the United States. Japan will convene a Cabinet meeting Monday to develop measures to block entry of the virus into the country.
The United States has not issued any travel warnings or quarantines.
But US Airways said Saturday it would allow passengers to change plans if they wanted to because of the outbreak.
Airline spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said it was not asking people not to travel to Mexico, but wanted to "give them that flexibility" if "they don't feel comfortable."
Gregory Hartl of the World Health Organization said the strain of the virus seen in Mexico 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 deal with influenza might not be adjusted well enough to deal with this new virus," Hartl said.
Mexico City has closed all of its schools and universities until further notice because of the virus.