MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s top medical officer voiced optimism Thursday that swine flu has slowed in the nation hardest hit by the virus, but the World Health Organization cautioned there is no evidence the worst of the global outbreak is over.
The U.S. caseload rose slightly to 130 as hundreds of schools nationwide shut their doors, and the crisis even reached the White House, which said an aide to the secretary of energy apparently got sick helping arrange a presidential trip to Mexico.
European health ministers vowed to work quickly with drugmakers to rush a vaccine into production, but American health officials suggested inoculations could not begin until fall at the earliest.
Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said new cases have leveled off and the death rate has been nearly flat for several days.
“The fact that we have a stabilization in the daily numbers, even a drop, makes us optimistic,” he said. “Because what we’d expect is geometric or exponential growth.”
The health ministry, which earlier said 168 people were believed killed by swine flu in Mexico, on Thursday would only confirm 12 of those deaths and would not say how many were suspected.
The World Health Organization’s top flu official sounded a more cautious note about whether the virus had peaked.
“For things to go up and down in a country is expected,” Dr. Keiji Fukuda said in Geneva.
Mexico’s top epidemiologist said the WHO was slow to react to an outbreak of atypical pneumonia that grew into the swine flu epidemic, saying he wants a probe to find out what happened to prevent a repeat.
The only confirmed U.S. swine flu death so far is a Mexican toddler who succumbed earlier this week in Texas. New cases of swine flu were confirmed Thursday in Europe, but no deaths have been reported outside North America.
In the United States, Vice President Joe Biden stirred concern by saying in an NBC interview that he would discourage family members from flying or taking the subway because of the swine flu threat.
The White House insisted Biden meant to say he was discouraging nonessential travel to Mexico.