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Flu Kills Canadian, First Cases In Japan, Australia

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -- The new H1N1 flu killed its first patient in Canada, making it the third country after Mexico and the United States to report a death from the virus that has made more than 3,400 people in 28 countries ill.

The chief medical officer in the Canadian province of Alberta said on May 8 that the woman in her 30s who died on April 28 had not travelled to Mexico, the epicenter of the swine-flu outbreak, which suggests a more sustained spread of the infection.

Japan and Australia confirmed their first cases on May 9, although there have been no deaths in either country.

The Canadian woman's death raised the confirmed global toll from the virus to 48. The virus is a strange coupling between a triple-hybrid virus with pig, human, and bird elements and a European swine virus not seen before in North America.

Alberta was also where a herd of pigs became infected with the H1N1 swine flu, apparently infected by a man who had travelled to Mexico.

The World Health Organization (WHO) kept its global pandemic alert at Phase 5 out of six because the new virus was not spreading rapidly outside North America, where U.S. officials expect it to spread to all 50 states.

Japan said its first three confirmed cases were a man in his 40s and two teenagers who had spent time in Canada.

Australia's first case was a 28-year-old woman who returned on a flight from Los Angeles on May 7.

Health officials said the woman had shown flu symptoms while travelling in the United States in April but she had since recovered. Passengers on the same flight were being contacted.

One More Mexican Death

In Mexico, authorities reported one more death, based on lab tests of patients who died in past days, to raise the total to 45. A quarter of the dead were obese, the government said.

The virus has also killed two people in the United States, where President Barack Obama said that "we're seeing that the virus may not have been as virulent as we at first feared, but we're not out of the woods yet."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1,639 U.S. cases on Friday, up from 896 on Thursday, a jump that has been expected as a backlog of lab tests were confirmed. The Mexican case total climbed to 1,364 from 1,204.

Global figures stood at at least 3,416 cases, according to the WHO, the CDC, and national health authorities.

Financial markets were rattled briefly after Mexico announced it had detected a new virus on April 23. Hog futures were also hit temporarily after several countries imposed trade restrictions, which came even though health officials said there was no risk of spreading the virus by eating pork.

Mexico, already in recession, has said the flu crisis could knock 0.3 to 0.5 percentage points off its gross domestic product as tourism revenues suffer and after the country shut down all nonessential businesses for five days to control infection.

A senior executive at HSBC told the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit the flu outbreak would delay economic recovery in Mexico, saying lending would suffer.

In Asia, countries whose health diplomacy skills were honed by SARS in 2003 and ongoing outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza pledged to boost drug stockpiles, share essential supplies, and tighten surveillance against what they called an "imminent health threat" to the region.

"We cannot afford to let our guard down," Association of South East Asian Nations Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told a meeting of health ministers from China, Japan, South Korea, and the 10-member bloc.

In Hong Kong, authorities said a Mexican man confirmed as the city's only case had been released from hospital. Hong Kong imposed a weeklong quarantine on almost 300 guests and staff at a hotel where the man had stayed.

Those people were released late on May 8. Criticized by some for its drastic response, Hong Kong also won praise in other quarters for its response to the threat.

Possible Obesity, Diabetes Link

In Mexico, where diabetes is the country's leading cause of death, officials said 24 percent of the dead were obese.

Diabetes was associated with many of the victims, as were cardiovascular problems such as angina and high blood pressure, Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova told a news conference.

These conditions can raise the risk of complications and death from seasonal influenza, which kills 250,000 to 500,000 people every year globally and 36,000 in the United States alone.

Officials said their fast implementation of quarantine measures, disinfecting public spaces, and education about hand hygiene helped control the spread of the virus.

But that failed to appease soccer clubs from throughout Latin America who refused to play against the two remaining Mexican club teams in the Copa Libertadores tournament. The Mexican teams withdrew from the cup on May 8.