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World

WHO says new flu vaccine feasible, as much of Mexico shuts down

As more countries confirm cases of swine flu, the World Health Organization says existing vaccines are of no use, but that a new prophylactic drug could be made in a short period of time.

A manwith a surgical mask over his mouth rides the Mexico City subway

Travellers in Mexico City take precautions above and below ground

From building sites to barber shops, much of Mexico will be shut down for the next five days after the government extended a public holiday in an effort to stem the spread of a highly contagious outbreak of swine flu.

In accordance with a presidential order, most non-essential government offices, factories and businesses will be shuttered and employees are being asked to stay home from May 1-5.

The move coincides with a meeting in Geneva on Friday of the World Health Organization (WHO), which discussed the deadly outbreak of swine flu in at least 13 countries worldwide.

Conventional vaccines not effective

German health officials board a passenger plane which has arrived from Mexico

German health officials have been checking airplanes arriving from Mexico

The WHO had a mixed bag of news to report, saying that existing vaccines for influenza were of little use against the new AH1N1 strain of swine flu. The global health body did say, however, that it had no doubt that a viable vaccine against the new virus could be made within four to six months. The WHO said samples of a new flu shot medicine would be ready to send to manufacturers by the end of this month.

Three more countries, including Germany, on Friday confirmed their first cases of human-to-human swine flu infections. Scottish authorities reported the first case in Britain involving someone who had not been to Mexico, but had been in contact with people who had. Denmark said one of its citizens, who contracted the strain, had recently returned from New York.

In Germany, a nurse in Bavaria became infected, despite quarantine precautions, after treating a patient with the virus. She is reported to have already recovered.

China also confirmed its first case in Hong Kong after a Mexican man, who arrived via Shanghai, tested positive.

Flu flummoxes specialists

Meanwhile, U.S. health experts say the outbreak of swine flu may not be as severe as it first looked. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (CDC) said most of the cases outside Mexico have been mild.

German medical staff

German doctors and medical staff prepare for more patients

Mexico has reported 176 flu-related deaths, but only 11 or 12 so far have reportedly been confirmed as the H1N1 variety.

Epidemiologists have been struggling to explain why so many deaths have occurred in Mexico and essentially nowhere else, and have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. This uncertainty is one reason why the WHO continues to warn of the possibility of a worldwide pandemic. The only death outside Mexico was a Mexican boy visiting Texas in the United States.

The 13 countries to have reported cases so far are Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Israel, New Zealand, Mexico, the United States, Canada and China.

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