The WHO raised its pandemic alert level for the swine flu virus to phase 4, indicating a significantly increased risk of a pandemic, a global outbreak of a serious disease.
The last such outbreak, a “
Although the new flu strain has so far killed people only in
The swine flu is not caught from eating pig meat products, but several countries imposed import bans on pork from the
The US State Department and the European Union urged citizens to avoid non-essential travel
Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the outbreak was now suspected of having killed 149 people and warned the number of cases would keep rising.
Thirty-three million Mexican schoolchildren will be off school until the middle of next week as authorities seek to contain the outbreak. Schools in the sprawling capital had already been closed but the government ordered classes canceled across the country until May 6.
Most of the those who died were between 20 and 50 years of age, an ominous sign because a hallmark of past pandemics has been the high rate of fatalities among healthy young adults.
In the first confirmed cases in
Suspected cases were also reported in
Worldwide, seasonal flu kills between 250 000 and 500 000 people in an average year but the new strain worries experts because it spreads rapidly between humans and there is vaccine for it.
Oil prices fell more than 2% to close to $50 a barrel as investors feared a new blow to an already fragile global economy if trade flows are curbed and manufacturing is hit.
The MSCI world equity index fell 0.8% and US stocks also slipped.
Flu fears hit US airline stocks hard as investors worried that the travel industry would suffer. Shares prices for UAL Corp, the parent of United Airlines, shed 14%, while Continental Airlines lost 16%.
Other travel and leisure stocks such as