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Anxiety Over Flu Virus Grinds Mexico City to a Halt

Governments around the world are launching medical and clean up operations to protect citizens against swine flu infections.

After flu infections, people can develop an additional bacterial "superinfection" that could be lethal, said Brian Currie, an infectious-diseases doctor and director of clinical research at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Currie said it remained a mystery why people in Mexico were dying while the cases reported in the United States have been relatively benign.

"You've got to remember, this is a strain of flu nobody has seen before," Currie said.

Even though there is no known vaccine for humans for this strain of swine flu -- which combines genetic material from more common types of pig, bird and human flus -- Mexican officials have stressed that it is curable. President Felipe Calderón said Sunday that of the 1,324 patients with flulike symptoms as of Saturday, 929 have been treated and released from the hospital.

Mexican officials said there is no shortage of antiviral medication. The difference between who lives and dies seems largely linked to how quickly patients receive treatment, officials said.

"With a sickness like this, if you don't take it seriously, if you don't go to the doctor right away, it can have very grave consequences," Calderón said in a televised address Sunday.

Calderón gave a national lesson on public health, instructing people to wash their hands regularly, wear surgical masks, cover their mouths when they cough and avoid sharing food. Officials in Mexico City have handed out 6 million masks.

"Everyone, absolutely every Mexican, needs to make a special effort to avoid contacting other people who could potentially be infected with the virus," the president said.

Jorge Francisco Guzmán Suárez, a 24-year-old who died Saturday at the National Institute for Respiratory Illnesses, was initially treated by a private doctor for a stomachache, rather than the flu, his aunt, Herminia Guzmán, told the Reforma newspaper.

"We are devastated," the aunt told the paper. "The miracle did not arrive."

An outdoor market in the colonial neighborhood of Coyoacan on Sunday was a shadow of its usual self. Candelaria Villanueva, 72, a vendor of jewelry and blouses, said sales have plummeted. She was worried, she said, because her 20-year-old granddaughter recently got sick and was told by a doctor that it was "just the flu."

"I think you have to have faith in God," she said.

A double-decker tour bus was nearly empty. Bus worker Karla Yañez said people are scared to ride.

"Everybody's inside, places are closed, the parks are closed, people don't go out," she said. "Mexico is a social place -- people like to go out and be together. The sickness has taken that away."

Staff writer David Brown in Washington and special correspondent Jonathan Roeder in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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