Is swine flu coming to Houston?
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A unique strain of the so-called swing flu is something researchers have never seen before and there's no vaccine for it. It's killed as many as 60 people south of the border and sickened two Texas teenagers.
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All schools in Mexico City were closed Friday, as well as museums, libraries and state-run theaters.
In addition to the 60 deaths in Mexico, more than a thousand people there are sick from the same strain of swine flu which has sickened eight people in Texas and California.
Now, the World Health Organization is considering whether it should call this a pandemic, but as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, it's not asking you to make any travel changes, at least not yet.
"At this time, there are no recommendations for U.S. travelers to change, restrict, or alter their travel plans to Texas, California, or Mexico," said acting CDD Director Dr. Richard Besser.
Health officials say there is no cause for a public alarm. Nonetheless, Houston and Harris County are keeping an eye on the swine flu to make sure all residents here are safe.
Scientists call this is a frightening new strain of the swine flu and while local officials say it's important not to panic, it's also important they be aware, especially since two high school students in Schertz, Texas, near San Antonio somehow contracted it.
People coming in from Mexico City were relieved to be far away from the health danger, but before they boarded their plane to Houston, they had to answer some questions.
"I saw people on their own wearing their masks," said one traveler.
Public gathering places in Mexico were ordered shutdown and people donned surgical masks in fear. In the meantime, health officials worldwide are watching the outbreak closely. More than 60 people have died in Mexico and 1,000 have become ill.
On this side of the border, the swine flu has sickened eight people, six in California and two here in Texas near San Antonio.
"It gives us cause to be on the alert" said Herminia Palacio, Executive Director of the Harris County Public Health Department.
Palacio said there are no suspect cases here, but it's a changing situation.
This strain of swine flu is unique, traditionally it affects just pigs, but this has elements of bird and human flu which makes it new.
In response, Mexico's government handed out free surgical masks and the acting Health Secretary sent out a message "advising the population to avoid crowded places or events, unless attendance is strictly necessary."
Eyewitness News was in Mexico City just last week, well before the panic. Palacio says there's no need to panic here, although she suggests getting tested if you've had flu-like symptoms and have traveled within the last seven days to Mexico or the affected U.S. counties, including San Diego and Imperial in California and Guadalupe County here in Texas.
"Facts are emerging on a daily if not sooner basis. This is a new situation we're following closely and we look forward to keeping our public informed," said Palacio.
Health officials said the best defense against this virus is good hygiene. President Obama has been briefed and the World Health Organization is convening an expert panel to consider whether to issue travel advisories.
local, jessica willey
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