New laboratory data showed fewer people have died in Mexico than first thought from a new influenza strain, a glint of good news for a world rattled by the threat of a flu pandemic.
Mexico cut its suspected death toll from the H1N1 flu to up to 101 from as many as 176, as dozens of test samples came back negative, but only 16 deaths have been confirmed.
Fewer patients with severe flu symptoms were also checking into hospitals, suggesting the infection rate was declining.
The WHO said yesterday 15 countries have reported 615 infections with the new flu virus A-H1N1, widely known as swine flu.
Italy later confirmed its first case, a man in the Tuscany region who returned from Mexico on April 24. He has recovered.
Almost all infections outside Mexico have been mild. The only death in another country has been a Mexican toddler who was taken to the US before he fell ill.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed the outbreak may not be as severe as it looked a few days ago, citing many mild cases that were not immediately noticed.
For Mexicans — spending a second weekend stuck indoors with stores and businesses shuttered across the country and the capital, Mexico City, devoid of its lively restaurants, bars, cinemas and museums — the data is cheering.
Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova acknowledged the numbers were encouraging but cautioned it was too early to say Mexico had control of the flu.
“For now it’s unpredictable,” Cordova said late on Friday. “We need more days to see how it behaves and whether there is really a sustained decline so we can conclude that it’s going down.”
Cordova said that of 159 files on suspected flu deaths, tests showed 58 died of other causes.
He said 16 deaths were confirmed as caused by the H1N1 flu and 85 were being tested.
Mexico has released a confusing batch of flu data in recent days but public hospitals have noted a steady drop in patients turning up with fevers, suggesting the infection rate may be declining as the nation dons face masks and hand gel.
The virus is only the third infectious disease experts regard as having pandemic potential in the past 10 years.
It has world health experts racing to work on a vaccine and is wreaking havoc with a travel industry that flies hundreds of thousands of people to and from Mexico each week.
China suspended flights to Mexico after Hong Kong authorities on Friday confirmed a Mexican man who flew via Shanghai was infected with the flu strain.
Police in surgical masks quarantined 200 guests and 100 staff inside a Hong Kong hotel where the Mexican, 25, had been staying, saying they would be confined for a week.
Hong Kong was badly hit by the SARS virus in 2003 and has had many episodes of H5N1 bird flu for more than a decade.
The Asian Development Bank said on Saturday it was prepared to provide assistance to countries in the region to cope with the possible spread of flu, as it did during the SARS outbreak.
Several European countries have confirmed cases of the virus. The US has been hit with 145 cases in 22 states, sending demand shooting up for antiviral medicine.
In Panama, police detained an American who ran away from a hospital that was testing him for the flu.
A New Delhi hospital was yesterday monitoring one suspected swine flu patient who arrived from abroad, but tests on six other people have proved negative, a report said.
Test samples from the six had been sent to India’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases for examination, the Press Trust of India said.
So far, no cases of swine flu have been confirmed in India.
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