MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico canceled school nationwide Monday and warned the death toll from a swine flu epidemic believed to have killed 149 people would keep rising before it can be contained.
Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said 20 of the deaths have been confirmed to be from swine flu and the government was awaiting results on the others.
"We are the most critical moment of the epidemic. The number of cases will keep rising so we have to reinforce preventive measures," Cordova said at a news conference that was briefly shaken by an earthquake centered in southern Mexico.
Cordova said 1,995 people have been hospitalized with serious cases of pneumonia since mid-April, of whom 1,070 have been released. The government does not yet know how many were swine flu.
The virus has been confirmed or suspected in at least a half-dozen other countries and has caused the U.S. to declare a health emergency.
Cordova also suggested an earlier timeline for documented swine flu cases inside Mexico. The first death confirmed by the government involved a woman who succumbed from swine flu on April 13 in southern Oaxaca state. But Cordova said tests now show that a 4-year-old boy contracted the disease at least two weeks earlier neighboring Veracruz state, where a community has been protesting pollution from a large pig farm.
The farm is run by Granjas Carroll de Mexico, a joint venture 50 percent owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc. Spokeswoman Keira Ullrich said the company has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in its swine herd or its employees working at its joint ventures anywhere in Mexico.
But local residents are convinced they were sickened by air and water contamination from pig waste.
There was a widespread outbreak of a particularly powerful respiratory disease in the area early April, and some people reported being sick as early as February. Local health workers intervened in early April, sealing off the town of La Gloria and spraying to kill off flies they said were swarming through their homes.