spain-flu-cp-6620141

An airline passenger wearing a face mask arrives from Mexico at the airport in Barcelona, Spain, Monday. Health authorities in several countries are advising people not to travel to Mexico. ((Manu Fernandez/Associated Press))

Health Canada says it is considering issuing an advisory against non-essential travel to Mexico following news of the swine flu outbreak there, but so far has not done so.

Public Health Officer David Butler-Jones told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa a travel advisory could be issued as early as Monday.

Earlier Monday, the Public Health Agency of Canada urged travellers to take precautionary measures such as getting a flu shot, frequently washing their hands and covering coughs and sneezes.

The U.S. issued a travel advisory on Monday, suggesting "non-essential travel to Mexico be avoided."

Swine flu symptoms

People infected with the virus have symptoms that include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Muscle and joint pain.
  • Shortness of breath.

Source: World Health Organization

In Mexico, at least 149 people were suspected to have died from a new strain of swine flu virus. Authorities in that country say more than 1,900 people have been hospitalized but 1,070 have been released. The illness has so far spread to at least two Canadian provinces, the United States and Europe, but there have been no deaths in these regions.

Canada has confirmed six cases of human swine flu virus, two in British Columbia and four in Nova Scotia. Health officials said the six, which included some who had recently visited Mexico, had relatively mild symptoms of the H1N1 swine flu virus and have recovered.

Medical authorities in Ontario are investigating a number of cases of suspected swine flu and expect to have results sometime in the next two days.

Elsewhere, there were 40 confirmed cases in the United States while Spain confirmed one and Scotland two. New Zealand, France and Israel announced they were monitoring suspected cases in their respective countries.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Canadian airlines are allowing customers who've booked trips to Mexico to modify their travel plans because of the outbreak of swine flu there.

May scrub down planes

Air Canada said Sunday it will allow travellers to make changes to their bookings for travel to and from Mexico City without paying penalty fees beginning Sunday until April 30. Rival WestJet Airlines issued a similar travel advisory for its customers, and on Monday extended till May 8 the period when travellers can make changes without penalty.

Information contacts

The federal government has set up a hotline and websites for information about the swine flu virus. The number is 1-800-454-8302, and the websites are fightflu.cavoyage.gc.ca and phac.gc.ca.

At a news conference in Calgary, WestJet officials also said they are considering scrubbing down every one of the airline's passenger jets leaving or landing in Mexico.

Spokesman Robert Palmer also said the airline will hand out complimentary breathing masks and hand sanitizer to all of its Mexico-bound passengers.

Several airlines in the United States, including U.S. Airways and Continental Airlines, also said Sunday they would waive penalties for customers who want to change their flights to Mexico City.

New Glasgow, N.S., travel agent Stacy Murphy said many people who have booked vacations to Mexico are looking for advice on whether or not to cancel their travel plans.

"My best advice to anyone right now is what I heard from the Canadian government — people should have flu shots. If you don't have them, you should go and get them right away, if you don't have insurance," she said.

"There may be, if people have taken out travel insurance, there may be a clause in there that will help them to cancel their trip and reimburse their money," she added.

In Saskatoon, Christine Kopp spent much of Monday on the phone, rearranging family travel plans.

She and her family were scheduled to fly to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Wednesday, but they cancelled the trip because of the swine flu outbreak.

"We just started hearing more and more things, and since we're taking our three-year-old with us, we didn't want to take a chance, and just decided to break off the trip," Kopp told CBC News.

Instead, she has chosen to fly to the Bahamas, in May.

2 countries advise against travel to Canada

A spokesman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority said that for now, it wasn't screening passengers returning from vacations or business in Mexico at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

But GTAA spokeswoman Trish Krale said emergency workers were taking extra precautions by wearing masks and gloves when responding to any ill passenger who had been in Mexico in the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, at least two countries have issued advisories about travelling to Canada after this country confirmed six cases of swine flu on Sunday.

India told its citizens to restrict visits to Canada, Mexico, the U.S. and New Zealand to essential travel.

The Times of India reports all travellers flying into India from Canada and other countries that have confirmed cases of swine flu will be individually checked for symptoms such as a fever and upper respiratory tract infection.

Media reports from Malaysia say that country's Health Ministry is advising Malaysians against travelling to Canada, Mexico and selected U.S. states where there are swine flu cases.

Canada's Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said Monday it's probably an overreaction to begin issuing such travel bans at this early stage. He said such measures should only be taken if there's clear evidence of danger or risk posed by travelling to countries with cases of swine flu.

Australia's Foreign Affairs department makes note of the Canadian swine flu cases on its website, telling Australian travellers to Canada that they should consult a doctor or go to a hospital if they develop flu-like symptoms.

With files from The Canadian Press