Everyone from doctors and school nurses to travel agents and vacationers are keeping close tabs on reports about swine flu, a virus that has killed at least 149 in Mexico and infected at least 40 in the United States.
The World Health Organization yesterday raised its alert level but stopped short of declaring a global emergency.
No cases have been identified in Massachusetts, but two young siblings in Lowell were being tested yesterday after they got sick during a vacation to Mexico.
Schools and public health boards across the Merrimack Valley issued warnings yesterday, asking folks to report any flu-like symptoms — fever, lethargy, muscle aches, headache, coughing, runny nose and sore throat — to their primary care physicians.
Health officials say they are awaiting results to verify whether the Lowell children — whose names and ages have not been released — have swine flu.
About two dozen people have been tested in Massachusetts in accordance with instructions from the national Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
"It's not something to panic about. But you need to go to the doctor," said Patricia Fabian, a University of Massachusetts - Lowell researcher studying influenza transmission. She noted the swine flu "seems to be responding to Tamiflu treatments."
Travel to Mexico discouraged
Along with the health warnings came alerts about foreign travel. Only "essential travel" to Mexico is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
That's something Maria Perez at Silverio Travel on Essex Street in Lawrence has heard plenty about. Eight clients with upcoming trips to Cancun and Playa del Carmen called to cancel or postpone their trips yesterday.
"Mexico is one of the destinations we sell a lot of trips too," said Perez. The calls from concerned vacationers started coming in on Friday and continued yesterday, she said.
Some clients decided to cancel their trips. Others decided to postpone their vacations until the flu reports die down, she said.