, MEXICO CITY, May 3 – Mexico was increasingly optimistic on Sunday its H1N1 flu epidemic was coming under control, after officials said stabilizing fatality figures suggested the virus was not as lethal as first feared.
Although the latest toll crept up to 19 deaths and 454 infected patients, Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said "each day we’re seeing fewer serious cases."
He added: "The mortality rate is dropping."
The picture emerging of the virus was considerably less dramatic than that painted by the Mexican government just days earlier, when it spoke of 159 "probable" deaths from the new variant of swine flu which was shown to be spread by human-to-human contact.
Stringent tests by US and Canadian labs on the mountain of "probable" cases subsequently excluded the majority, and left the much-smaller confirmed toll.
Rigorous containment measures in Mexico, such as closing many non-essential businesses and urging people to stay at home during a holiday weekend, had also limited the spread.
Antiviral medicines were found to work against the H1N1 flu.
Still, Mexican, US and international health officials remained cautious, and the World Health Organization was maintaining its warning that a global pandemic was "imminent."
Several countries put up barriers in their contacts with Mexico and Mexicans.
China, Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador and Peru have cut Mexico flights, and several — including China and other big Asian nations — have banned imports of Mexican pork products despite scientific advice that the swine flu could not be caught from eating pig meat.
Those moves earned Mexico’s ire.
It has threatened a World Trade Organization challenge to the pork ban, and on Saturday the government slammed China in particular for isolating arriving Mexicans with no flu symptoms.
According to the Mexican embassy in Beijing, 40 Mexican nationals were being kept in isolation in different parts of China despite being checked and showing no symptoms of the virus.
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, criticizing the "unjustified measures," advised Mexican citizens to avoid travel to China.
In the United States, a health official raised questions over the perception that the flu virus originated in Mexico.
He said it was possible the H1N1 virus may have originated in California, based on two cases reportedly detected there in late March, before Mexico’s flu emergency was sparked by the death of a woman to the flu in mid-April.
President Felipe Calderon discussed the crisis with US President Barack Obama on Saturday, the White House said.