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Pandemic Fears as Flu Kills 68

A swine flu virus outbreak that has rapidly claimed up to 68 lives in Mexico, and infected people in the US, was last night declared a "public health emergency of international concern". The decision, made by the World Health Organisation (WHO), means that countries are now being asked to step up surveillance for any cases. Travel advisories, trade restrictions, and even border closures could follow.

WHO's director-general Margaret Chan said the disease involves "an animal strain of the H1N1 virus, and it has pandemic potential". And the verdict of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was that the new flu has already spread so widely that it cannot be contained. As if to emphasise this, within a few minutes of the WHO's declaration, cases of swine flu were confirmed in both New York and Kansas, to add to those already in California and Texas.

And, last night, it was reported that a British Airways cabin crew member was taken to hospital after falling ill with flu-like symptoms on a flight from Mexico City. A Health Protection Agency (HPA) spokesman said in a statement: "At present, there have been no confirmed cases of human swine flu in the UK or anywhere in Europe." And there is hope that the illness is responding to known, and widely stocked, medicines. 

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