Swine Flu Continues to Flare Up, CDC Says

Many cases in the Northeast; health-care workers urged to take greater precautions

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By
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 18, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- While flu season is usually over by now, the new H1N1 swine flu continues to spread in some parts of the country, especially in the Northeast, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

"The U.S. will likely see [swine] flu activity continue throughout the summer," Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Influenza Division, said during a press conference.

The virus' spread has slowed in most parts of the country, Jernigan said, but new cases continue to be seen at higher rates in New York and Massachusetts, with more than 1,000 confirmed and probable cases in each state.

There have been nearly 21,500 cases of infection in the United States and 87 deaths, according to the CDC. Based on these numbers, the agency estimates that about 7 percent of people in areas currently experiencing an outbreak have flu symptoms, Jernigan said.

The previously-undiscovered flu, which first surfaced in April, continues to produce relatively mild symptoms, with patients recovering fairly quickly, officials said.

Still, health-care workers need to do more to protect themselves from infection by the virus. A small sample of 26 health-care workers found that half became infected while at work, according to a report in the June 19 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"This includes one case where the exposure was to another ill health-care person," Dr. Michael Bell, the CDC's associate director for infection control, said during Thursday's press conference.

Bell said infection-control procedures need to be taken seriously. A first step is to quickly identify flu patients when they come into a hospital. "This is essential. Consistent application of precautions is important to make sure that there isn't occupational exposure," he said.

Precautions should also include isolating H1N1 swine flu patients in single rooms. And health-care personnel should use gloves, respirators, gowns and eye protection while in a patient's room. Hand-washing should also be practiced, Bell said.

Health-care personnel also should stay home if they have the flu, Bell said. Not only does this prevent spreading the infection to other workers, "but more importantly, you are not going to be spreading infection to patients who can be much more fragile," he said.

Bell reiterated that the H1N1 swine flu continues to produce relatively mild symptoms in patients, and much has been learned about the precautions that health-care workers need to take since the virus first surfaced in April. "These lessons need to be applied so if something worse comes around we will be prepared to deal with it safely," he said.

Earlier this week, scientists in Brazil said they'd discovered a new strain of the swine flu virus, according to published reports. But it's not yet clear if the strain is any more dangerous than the original strain that first surfaced in Mexico in April and has since swept the globe.

The scientists discovered the new strain in a patient who had been hospitalized in Sao Paulo in April. The 26-year-old man, who came down with flu symptoms after returning from Mexico, has made a full recovery, Fox News reported.

Health officials are closely monitoring the H1N1 swine flu virus as it migrates from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere, where the flu season is now under way. While the swine flu doesn't yet seem any more lethal than the regular flu that each winter kills 36,000 people in the United States alone, scientists fear it could mutate as it circulates around the world, becoming more virulent and posing a greater health threat.

Nearly 40,000 people in 76 countries have been infected with the H1N1 virus, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, causing 167 deaths. The vast majority of those deaths -- 108 -- have occurred in Mexico, according to the agency.

The WHO last week formally declared a pandemic, triggered by the rapid spread of the H1N1 virus across North America, Australia, South America, Europe and regions beyond.

What makes the H1N1 strain different from the typical seasonal flu is that about half of the people killed worldwide were young and previously healthy. In contrast, regular forms of the seasonal flu typically prove most lethal to the very young and the elderly.

Given that trend, school children in the United States could be among the first to receive a swine flu vaccine this fall, if federal health officials decide to pursue a widespread inoculation program. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that she was urging school superintendents around the country to prepare for that possibility, the Associated Press reported.

"If you think about vaccinating kids, schools are the logical place," Sebelius told the news service.

Last week, European drug maker Novartis AG announced that it had successfully produced the first batch of H1N1 swine flu vaccine, weeks earlier than had been expected. The shortened production schedule was made possible because the vaccine was produced in cells, rather than the egg-based method typically used for vaccines, the company said.

According to the AP, Novartis said it was using this first batch for evaluation and testing, prior to its use in people, and it was also being considered for use in clinical trials. Millions of doses of the vaccine might be produced weekly, the company said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had already placed a $289 million order for swine flu vaccine with Novartis in May, the AP said.

U.S. Human Cases of H1N1 Flu Infection
(As of June 19, 2009, 11:00 AM ET)
States and Territories* # of
confirmed and
probable cases
Deaths
Alabama
172
 
Alaska
23
 
Arkansas
18
 
Arizona
645
7 deaths
California
1245
8 deaths
Colorado
103
 
Connecticut
767
3 deaths
Delaware
223
 
Florida
562
1 death
Georgia
51
 
Hawaii
279
 
Idaho
47
 
Illinois
2526
8 deaths
Indiana
223
 
Iowa
92
 
Kansas
97
 
Kentucky
108
 
Louisiana
134
 
Maine
42
 
Maryland
263
 
Massachusetts
1270
1 death
Michigan
442
2 deaths
Minnesota
365
1 death
Mississippi
81
 
Missouri
46
1 death
Montana
44
 
Nebraska
81
 
Nevada
198
 
New Hampshire
187
 
New Jersey
603
2 deaths
New Mexico
155
 
New York
1300
24 deaths
North Carolina
125
 
North Dakota
41
 
Ohio
63
 
Oklahoma
112
1 death
Oregon
219
1 death
Pennsylvania
942
3 deaths
Rhode Island
94
1 death
South Carolina
83
 
South Dakota
17
 
Tennessee
121
 
Texas
2519
10 deaths
Utah
755
8 deaths
Vermont
43
 
Virginia
135
1 death
Washington
588
3 deaths
Washington, D.C.
33
 
West Virginia
77
 
Wisconsin
3008
1 death
Wyoming
63
 
Territories
Puerto Rico
18
 
Virgin Islands
1
 
TOTAL*(53)
21,449 cases
87 deaths
*includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More information

For more on swine flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: June 18, 2009, teleconference with Daniel Jernigan, M.D., medical epidemiologist, Influenza Division, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Michael Bell, M.D., associate director for infection control, Division of Healthcare and Quality Promotion, National Center for Preparedness, Detection and Control of Infectious Diseases, CDC; Fox News; Associated Press

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