Saturday, April 25, 2009

11 more suspected swine flu cases in U.S.,0,2116819.story
From the Los Angeles Times

11 more suspected swine flu cases in U.S.

Total reaches 19 with a couple in Kansas, schoolchildren in New York City and a person in California believed to have mild cases of swine flu. It is not clear yet whether virus is easily transmitted.

By Thomas H. Maugh II

5:21 PM PDT, April 25, 2009

Kansas health authorities had confirmed two new cases of swine flu in their state, California has confirmed another case in Imperial County and New York City officials have identified eight probable cases, bringing the U.S. total to 19 likely cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously identified six cases in San Diego and Imperial counties and two cases in Guadalupe County, Texas.

The Kansas patients are a couple in Dickinson County. The husband had traveled to Mexico recently, flying out of the Wichita airport. Neither of them was hospitalized, and one has already recovered.

The new case brings the total in California to three cases in Imperial County and four in San Diego. The latest case is a 35-year-old woman who developed symptoms April 4. She was hospitalized and has recovered fully.

In New York, the suspected cases occurred among students at St. Francis Preparatory School, a private high school in Queens. At least 25 of the students had been out sick with influenza symptoms at the end of the week.

The city health department's Public Health Laboratory has completed preliminary screens on nose and throat swabs from nine of the students and found that eight are influenza A. Because they do not match normal human subtypes of influenza A currently in circulation, they are considered probable cases of swine flu.

The samples have been sent to the CDC in Atlanta for confirmation.

All of the cases were mild, and none of the students was hospitalized. The school will be closed Monday as a precaution.

Students at the school had told news outlets that some of them had traveled to Mexico recently, but that has not been confirmed by health officials.

The U.S. cases are in addition to the outbreak in Mexico, which has caused as many as 60 deaths and more than 1,000 infections. U.S. tests on virus samples from 14 Mexican patients confirm that about half of them are swine flu.

The problem in identifying swine flu is that its symptoms are virtually indistinguishable from regular influenza, said Dr. Anne Schuchat of CDC. The only way to be sure an infection is swine flu is through a laboratory test, which takes time.

Because the virus has popped up in so many locations, there is likely to be a larger outbreak if the virus proves to be highly transmissible -- something that has not been demonstrated yet.

"Having found the virus where we have found it, we are likely to find it in many more places," Schuchat said Saturday. "It is clear that this is widespread, which is why we do not think we can contain spread of this virus."

The ability of the virus to spread from person to person means that there is the potential for a pandemic, Dr. Margaret Char, director general of the World Health Organization, said Saturday. But experts noted that any new virus that can be transmitted among humans has such potential, and much more information is needed.

Chan returned to Geneva from the United States to monitor the ongoing swine flu problem and called an emergency meeting Saturday of the agency's influenza experts and consultants. That group said there is not yet enough information to justify raising the agency's alert system to a higher level and imposing travel or other restrictions.

But Chan did declare a "public health emergency" recommending that all nations increase their surveillance for the swine flu virus.

Officials noted that the new virus is susceptible to two of the four antiviral drugs now available and that both Mexico and the United States have ample stocks of the drugs.

CDC officials have prepared a seed stock of the virus that could be used in the manufacture of a vaccine, but said that it is premature to send it to pharmaceutical companies. Preparing a new vaccine would require several months, at best.

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