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World

Swine flu outbreak in Mexico has 'pandemic potential'

World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan is calling the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico a "serious situation." Chan called an emergency meeting of the global health body Saturday night to discuss the situation.

Swine flu in Mexico

Sporting and cultural events in Mexico City have been suspended

The meeting ended without any decisions being made about declaring an international public health emergency, but WHO spokeswoman Sari Setiogi said the United Nations agency would continue to monitor the situation.

According to Chan, the current virus is a new strain of the swine flu, which increases the chances of an international health crisis. She added that the new strain is a mixture of swine, avian, and human flu viruses.

In Mexico up to 81 deaths are believed to be linked to swine flu, as doctors examine more than 1,000 suspected cases of the virus.

Meanwhile in the United States, health officials say tests have confirmed that eight New York City schoolchildren have a type A influenza virus, likely swine flu.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden said the children were not seriously ill, but that the case was worrying.

Definitive results of the tests, which were carried out after around 100 schoolchildren became sick, are expected on Sunday.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that 11 people in California, Kansas and Texas are infected.

WHO pandemic alert level

WHO Director Margaret Chan

WHO Director Margaret Chan called an emergency meeting to discuss a potential public health emergency

Part of the purpose of Saturday's meeting was to consider raising WHO's level of pandemic alert.

The level is currently at three, which indicates “no or very limited human-to-human transmission.” The scale goes from one to six, with six being the highest and described as “efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission.”

No decision was made after the meeting to raise the pandemic alert level to four, where “evidence of increase human-to-human transmission” exists. Level three means the WHO is on “pandemic alert.”

Containing the virus

In an effort to contain the spread of the virus in the Mexican capital, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has suspended 553 sporting and cultural events for at least ten days.

"Our goal is to break the spread of the virus in the city," he said.

Most of in Mexico the dead were aged 25 to 45, a worrying sign because in past pandemics most fatalities have been among healthy young adults.

Mexico has shut schools and museums and canceled public events in its sprawling capital of 20 million to try to prevent further infections.

Saturday saw the cancellation of a foot race along the capital's most famous avenue and two major soccer matches on Sunday were to be played in empty stadiums. Shopping centers were quiet, restaurants half full and on the streets, many people wore face masks.

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