Swine flu is back in Mexico, the epicenter of a world pandemic three years ago that panicked people around the globe.
The country registered more cases of all types of flu and more incidents of the H1N1 strain, originally called swine flu, in January than in all of 2011, federal health officials said Tuesday.
Despite the spike, the number of cases is well within a normal flu season for Mexico, which can see from 5,000 to 11,000 incidents of all strains, Health Secretary Salomon Chertorivski Woldenberg said.
"Last year, H1N1 barely circulated in the country or in the world," Chertorivski said to explain the dramatic jump in cases in January.
There have been 1,623 cases of all strains of flu in Mexico recorded so far for January, 90 percent of them H1N1, Chertorivski told reporters. Thirty-two people died from flu, all but three of them from H1N1, he said.
That compares with about 1,000 flu cases in Mexico during all of last year, with 35 deaths from all strains. About 250 cases in 2011 were swine flu.
The low appearance of the H1N1 virus the past two years is one reason it's drawing so much media attention in Mexico. People have been lining up in hospitals and at school nurses for checks. A handful of private schools decided to close last week, and pharmacies reported shortages in antiviral drugs.
Chertorivski said there are plenty of doses of antiviral drugs in the country, but pharmacies initially were understocked after the low incidence of last year. He said the problem had been corrected.
Public nervousness about H1N1 has been high since the first outbreak in spring 2009, when the virus initially appeared to have a high mortality rate and Mexican authorities closed restaurants, schools, museums, libraries and theaters to stop its spread.
"Since 2009, we've remained more sensitive to the issue of flu," Chertorivski said. "2009 made us more conscientious and increased the number of tests and confirmations."
Chertorivski said the virus first reappeared this year in Chile and the Andean region of South America, where the flu season has now passed. He said the initial cases in Mexico were in southern and central states.
Health officials expect the cases to migrate north through Mexico and into the U.S., where incidents of H1N1 have increased in recent weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both the CDC and the Pan-American Health Organization also say that H1N1 cases this year are within the normal range.
The World Health Organization in 2009 declared swine flu the first global flu pandemic in 40 years.
Initial reports then suggested H1N1 was killing as many as one in 15 of those infected _ a death rate that would have been more than three times higher than the devastating flu pandemic of 1918-19. Later investigation, however, showed that many cases hadn't been reported by people who experienced mild symptoms and that the strain was lethal mostly to those with complicating circumstances. It is now considered a seasonal flu and included in the flu vaccine.
By July 2010, the Mexican government reported nearly 76,000 cases of H1N1 and more than 1,300 deaths, the most recent accumulated statistics on its website.
The World Health Organizations estimates that flu causes 3 million to 5 million cases of severe illness around the globe every year. It says about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths result, primarily among the elderly and the chronically ill.