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A Canadian mayor in Quebec province has banned handshakes to check the spread of the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu
. Since its
outbreak in April, the swine flu has claimed 66 lives in Canada, including 21 in French-speaking Quebec province.

Though the virus has more or less been contained, health authorities have warned people to be ready for another deadly outbreak in winter. 
But the mayor of L'Ancienne-Lorette city, just outside the capital of Quebec, is taking the threat rather seriously since the province goes to civic elections on November 1. Fearing that handshakes during the campaign will spread the virus, Mayor Emile Loranger has decided to ban this social custom. "On the campaign trail, you meet tons of people every day. By avoiding shaking hands, we want to protect the health of our citizens," Loranger has been quoted as saying.

He said his staff will avoid organizing public gatherings during the campaign. L'Ancienne-Lorette is home to 12,000 voters. It is one of 1,100 cities and towns in Quebec going to municipal elections at the start of the winter flu season.

"We have to look beyond politics. It is not worth it to take risks when you know that kids are more vulnerable to the virus," the mayor said Tuesday.

However, provincial public health authorities don't agree with the mayor's drastic step. "We are closely monitoring the evolution of the virus and we think the best way to prevent infection is still to have good hygiene, such as washing hands regularly,"said Dominique Breton, health spokeswoman.

In its flu advisory, Health Canada has recommended people to cover up coughs
and sneezes with an arm, avoid physical contact with anyone who might be sick and stay home if showing signs of the flu.

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