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Mexico Hurried to Build Testing Lab for Swine Flu

Alpuche, who barely slept, said: "We immediately started to develop capabilities. We immediately ordered 10 machines." The first new machines began to arrive April 28. The lab now has nine, with six more ordered.

"When the Mexican government realized the size of the task, the importance of the task, they came through," Winchell said. "They were essentially given a blank check. And they did it."

Alpuche and her technicians are now working triple shifts, and the laboratory is running 24 hours a day. Though they are processing 450 samples a day, 700 more come in each day as more patients seek help at hospitals and clinics. The lab established protocols for handling the avalanche of samples without contamination. The technicians, working with Winchell and Stroeher through interpreters from the U.S. Embassy, were trained in groups of three, one after the other.

Alpuche said the laboratory and epidemiologists in Mexico are now able to organize samples for testing -- giving priority to the sickest patients or to confirming cases in Mexican states with few infections, to better track the spread of the disease.

"They are beginning to piece together the big puzzle now," Winchell said.

With the rate of swine flu testing cranking up and the number of new suspected cases dropping off, Mexican health authorities this week provided a more detailed picture of how many people in the country have contracted the new virus.

Health Secretary José Ángel Córdova said Thursday that swine flu had killed 44 people; the government reported later in the day that the number of laboratory-confirmed cases had risen to 1,204. Some suspected swine flu deaths will not be able to be confirmed, Córdova said. The daily increases in confirmed cases are generally the result of the lab catching up with samples, not new infections.

Mexican officials said that their tough public health measures, including the shutting down of schools, commerce and public gatherings, helped slow the spread of the virus.

"The front line of the battle was Mexico, and we defended all of humanity from the propagation of this new virus," Calderón told a national television audience Tuesday.

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