April 29, 2009 / 3:06 AM / in 9 years

Canada's confirmed swine flu cases now 19

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Confirmed cases of swine flu in Canada rose to 19 on Wednesday, with health officials predicting the number will continue to grow because of the country’s travel links with Mexico.

<p>People walk by a sign inside St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto warning visitors not to visit family or friends if they have had influenza-like symptoms. The number of confirmed cases of swine flu in Canada increased to 13 on Tuesday, as Canadians were urged to avoid unnecessary travel to Mexico and a major tour operator postponed flights between the countries. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

Three new cases were confirmed in both Ontario and British Columbia, which had already reported cases.

The cases were also described as mild, and involved people who had recently traveled to Mexico or were in regular contact with someone who had recently visited there.

“I‘m not surprised with the three (in Ontario). I‘m going to expect some more as the days go on,” said Dr. David Williams, the province’s acting chief medical officer.

Mexico is a popular destination for Canadian travelers, especially during the winter.

Although one of the British Columbia cases involves a person who may have been infected by someone else who had gone to Mexico, officials said they still do not know how easily the disease spreads.

“It’s still possible it will (spread easily), but the jury is still out,” said Dr. David Patrick, of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control.

The World Health Organization Increased its pandemic alert awareness level to 5 out of 6, but Canadian officials said they were already operating as if the alert level was high.

“For Canada it does not change what we are facing or how we approach it,” said Dr. David Butler-Jones, the country’s chief public health officer.

Canada helped Mexico identify that it did have an outbreak of swine flu, and has agreed to help with additional laboratory testing of potential cases there.

Ottawa has advised citizens against unnecessary travel to Mexico and urged residents who recently visited there and were feeling flu-like symptoms to go to their doctor to get tested for swine flu.

The country’s two major airlines, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd have said they will temporarily suspend flights to Mexican resort locations starting next week.

While telling people to take normal precautions against the flu, such as washing their hands, officials are also urging people not to overreact.

“It’s safe to go to school. It’s safe to go to work. It’s safe to socialize,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer of Nova Scotia.

Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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