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Suspected swine flu deaths in Mexico top 100

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s government tried Monday to stem the spread of a deadly strain of swine flu as the work week began by urging people to stay home if they have any symptoms of the virus believed to have killed more than 100 people.

Officials already closed schools in five states and canceled hundreds of public events. But as the number of suspected cases and deaths rose again — and millions returning to work — they looked to other measures to control the outbreak.

Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcon said employers should isolate anyone showing up for work with fever, cough, sore throat or other signs of the flu.

The Mexico City government is considering a complete shutdown if the death toll keeps rising, including all public transport. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said surgical masks were being distributed at subway and bus stops across the city.

The disease has hit hardest in the capital, but life was disrupted from Tijuana to Acapulco, a lucrative Pacific resort town where night clubs and bars were ordered closed until further notice. Acapulco Mayor Manuel Anorve Banos said he was worried about tourists from Mexico City spreading the disease.

Some city dwellers headed to the beach, taking advantage of the closed schools. But those who live day-to-day worried about making ends meet if the city completely shuts down.

“We’re going to have to stop working,” said Raul Alvarez Torres, who relies on the subway to get from his gritty suburb to his shoe shining stand in an upscale Mexico city neighborhood each day. “If people have no transport, getting around is impossible.”

For the first time in 300 years, the cathedral in Mexico City’s main plaza has pulled an icon of the Lord of Health from storage, and worshippers placed it on the principal altar.

The Rev. Cuauhtemoc Islas said it would remain there until the medical emergency is over, Mexico’s government news agency Notimex reported.

But the bad news kept coming. Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said late Sunday the number of suspected swine flu cases in Mexico had climbed to 1,614, including 103 deaths.

Authorities were trying to confirm how many new cases were caused by the virus, which has been confirmed or suspected in at least a half-dozen other countries and has caused the U.S. to declare a health emergency.

But even as Mexican officials urged those with flu symptoms to seek medical help, some complained of being turned away.

In Toluca, a city west of the capital, one family said health authorities refused to treat a relative Sunday who had full-blown flu symptoms and could barely stand. The man, 31-year-old truck driver Elias Camacho, was even ordered out of a government ambulance, his father-in-law told The Associated Press.

Paramedics complained that Camacho — who had a fever, was coughing and had body aches — was contagious, Jorge Martinez Cruz said.

Family members took him by taxi to a public hospital, but a doctor there denied Camacho was sick and told the trio to leave, Martinez said.

“The government told us that if we have these symptoms, we should go to these places, but look how they treat us,” Martinez said. Camacho was finally admitted to the hospital — and placed in an area marked “restricted” — after a doctor at a private clinic notified state health authorities, Martinez said.

Jose Isaac Cepeda, who has had fever, diarrhea and joint pains since Friday, said he was turned away from two hospitals — the first because he isn’t registered in the public health system, and the second “because they say they’re too busy.”

Mexico City’s two main chains of movie theaters announced they were closing. The government suspended nearly all events at a national juvenile Olympics taking place in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. Only swimming meets continued, without spectators.

“I worked so hard for this competition. I’ve been training for nearly a year and I would have liked to have an audience,” said 13-year-old swimmer Jacqueline Sainz.

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