By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 24, 2009; 2:34 PM
At least 854 people have been sickened and 62 have died from flu-like illness in Mexico City and two other locations in Mexico, prompting fears of an outbreak of swine flu, officials said today.
The illnesses and deaths prompted Mexican health officials to shut down schools and warn millions of people to stay home from work and take other steps to try to stem the spread of the sickness, officials said.
"For us right now it's alarming," said Sari Setiogi, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization in Geneva, which has launched an investigation to try to determine the cause and scope of the problem. "This does raise our concern."
In the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said it had confirmed that samples shipped from Mexico City were swine flu, but officials remained uncertain whether the virus was causing the bulk of the illnesses or any of the deaths. Other respiratory illnesses, including standard flu, were also likely present in the area, they said.
"We know swine flu is there, but how much of a role it's playing in what's going on with this respiratory illness is what we're trying to determine," said Thomas Skinner, a CDC spokesman.
The CDC planned to issue an "outbreak notice" later today alerting U.S. citizens who are traveling to the area about the cases and recommending that they take steps to protect themselves, such as washing their hands frequently. But the government did not yet plan to warn people against going to the area.
At least seven people have been found to be infected with an ususual swine flu virus in California and Texas in recent days, and the CDC is testing the Mexican samples to see whether they match the strain found in the United States.