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Canada's swine flu cases jump to 13, all mild

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The number of confirmed cases of swine flu in Canada increased to 13 on Tuesday, as Canadians were urged to avoid unnecessary travel to Mexico and tour operators postponed flights between the countries.

Ontario, the country’s most populous province, confirmed its first four swine flu cases, and Alberta said it now had two cases. British Columbia, which already had two cases, said it now had three.

“Thankfully all of these cases have been mild,” said Federal Health Minister Leona Aqlukkag.

Provincial health officials said all the people who have contracted the flu had recently travelled to Mexico, which is a popular holiday destination for Canadians.

Canada has predicted the number of confirmed swine flu cases in the country would increase as screening continued.

“It’s only a matter of time given the number of people who come and go to Mexico,” said David Williams, Ontario’s acting chief medical officer.

The Public Health Agency of Canada advised citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico because of the deadly flu outbreak there, echoing an advisory issued by the United States on Monday. Some 159 Mexicans have died in the outbreak.

Canada has also increased the screening of people returning from Mexico.

Tour operator Transat AT said it was postponing its flights to Mexico until June 1, and would maintain flights or add flights from Mexico until May 3 to bring back customers and employees.

The Montreal-based company also said it was postponing flights from France to Mexico until May 31.

Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd said it will cease service to Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, effective May 4. It said it planned to resume service to the latter three destinations on June 20.

Air Canada said it will suspend all operations to Cancun, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta until June 1, but maintain flights to Mexico City.

And even though health officials say people cannot get swine flu from eating pork, Canada’s hog farmers are worried about the name association. The Canadian Pork Council issued a statement asking government officials to stop calling the virus the swine flu and instead call it North American influenza.

Additional reporting by Scott Haggett, David Ljunggren and Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by Eric Walsh and Todd Eastham