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New Flu Spreads In Japan, One Dead In New York

TOKYO (Reuters) -- More than 100 people have been confirmed infected with the new strain of H1N1 flu in Japan, after New York saw its first death from the virus and Chile reported its first two cases.

Most of Japan's new infections were among high school students in the western prefectures of Hyogo and Osaka who had not travelled abroad, the Health Ministry said. Media reports said a 5-year-old boy and at least one person over 60 were also infected.

Thirty-nine countries have now confirmed cases of the flu strain, a mix of swine, human, and avian viruses, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. The H1N1 flu last month prompted the WHO to raise its global pandemic alert level to five on a six-point scale.

To date, almost all the deaths have been in Mexico. The WHO, whose data lags national tallies, earlier put the number of confirmed worldwide cases at 8,480, with 72 deaths.

In Japan, schools and kindergartens were shuttered across the western prefecture region, media said. Students were asked to stay at home, but local governments advised businesses to operate as usual.

The news boosted shares of drugmaker Chugai Pharmaceutical due to hopes for strong sales of the Tamiflu antiviral drug. Shares of firms that make medical masks also jumped, though the Nikkei stock average tumbled nearly 3 percent.

In Geneva on May 16, health negotiators from rich and poor countries had failed to clinch a full deal on virus sharing to produce vaccines, but said they had closed gaps on some tough political issues.

The H1N1 has given added urgency to the work of the intergovernmental meeting, set up two years ago by the WHO amid a scare about H5N1 influenza, or bird flu.

Japan's government said on May 18 it had decided not to raise its domestic alert level to Phase 3, which would mean limiting preventive use of drugs, among other measures.

"Risks posed by the new flu are hard to predict, as it's unknown how far it will spread," John Lipsky, the International Monetary Fund's first deputy managing director, told reporters in Tokyo.

"It could have a notable effect on Japan. In the case of Mexico, officials there say their outbreak reduced gross domestic product by 0.5 percent," he said.

Spread Continues

Chile's health minister confirmed on May 17 the country's first cases of the flu in two Chilean women who had returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic.

The women, aged 25 and 32, were receiving hospital treatment and the government was contacting other people who had travelled on the same flight, Health Minister Alvaro Erazo said.

In New York, a school principal died from the new flu on May 17, marking the city's first death from the virus.

The 55-year-old had been admitted to hospital suffering from the flu several days before, a spokesman for the Flushing Hospital Medical Center said.

Several schools have been closed in the New York borough of Queens after students and staff were infected.

Mainland China also confirmed its first case in the capital over the weekend, while Hong Kong confirmed a third case and sought to trace passengers who had sat near the infected man on a plane.