By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- The number of confirmed swine flu cases in the United States has surpassed 100, federal health officials said Thursday.
Meanwhile, Mexico -- believed to be the source of the outbreak -- braced for a shutdown of all non-essential services as authorities sought to limit further infections in that country, where the virus is suspected of causing 168 deaths so far.
Late Thursday, Mexico's top health official said the number of new swine flu cases seemed to be leveling off. Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova told a news conference he hoped the trend would continue and that a vaccine would be available in six months, the Associated Press reported.
At a Thursday morning news conference, Dr. Richard Besser, acting head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "Today I am reporting 109 confirmed cases within the United States. We have 11 affected states. There are many more states that have suspect cases," he added.
There are 50 confirmed cases in New York, 26 in Texas, 14 in California, 10 in South Carolina, two each in Kansas and Massachusetts and one each in Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio, Besser said. The age range of those infected is 22 months to 81 years, he said.
"Six of the cases have been hospitalized, including the unfortunate case we reported yesterday of the child in Texas who passed away," he said.
The never-before-seen flu strain is a combination of pig, bird and human viruses, prompting worries from health officials that humans may have no natural immunity to the pathogen.
Besser said federal health officials "continue to be very aggressive in our approach and we will continue to do that until the situation tells us that we no longer need to do so. There's no one action that is going to stop this. There is no silver bullet, but all the efforts -- the efforts of government, the efforts of communities and the efforts of individuals -- will help to reduce the impact on people's health."
"There are things people can do," he said, including "handwashing, covering coughs, staying at home when they are sick.
The vaccine plan is to complete the production of seasonal flu vaccine for next winter and then switch to production of a vaccine for the N1H1 swine flu, if needed, Besser said.
All of the cases diagnosed in the United States continue to be mild, federal health officials said Thursday.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that U.S. public health officials were recommending that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu "should strongly consider temporarily closing so that we can be as safe as possible."
Texas has postponed all public high school sports and academic competitions at least until May 11 due to the outbreak.
On Thursday, Fort Worth, Texas, announced the temporarily closure of all district schools for its approximately 80,000 students, probably until May 12, after one student was found to be infected with swine flu and three others were suspected of suffering from the virus.
Dozens of schools elsewhere in the country have also been temporarily shut down, according to published reports.
As with the previously tested strains of the swine flu virus, new testing has found that the pathogen remains susceptible to the two common antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, according to an April 28 dispatch from the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization raised the swine flu epidemic level from 4 to 5, signifying that a pandemic is imminent, and urged countries to implement their pandemic plans. And on Thursday, WHO said it would cease calling the virus "swine flu," using instead its scientific name, H1N1 influenza A, to help reduce confusion over the danger posed by pigs (pork consumption does not transmit infection).
On Thursday, Mexico prepared for a broad shutdown of services as officials urged businesses to close until Tuesday, to coincide with a long holiday weekend. Mexican President Felipe Calderon said in a televised address that only essential businesses such as supermarkets, hospitals and pharmacies should stay open, and only critical government workers such as police and soldiers would be on duty from Friday through Tuesday. School had already been canceled nationwide through Tuesday, The New York Times and the AP reported.
The decision Wednesday by the World Health Organization to raise the alert level underscored the concern of world health officials that the swine flu outbreak could trigger large numbers of deaths worldwide, even though there have only been eight confirmed deaths in Mexico and one in the United States, the AP reported.
"It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in Geneva, Switzerland. "We do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them."
On Monday, a 23-month-old Mexican boy who had traveled to Houston for medical treatment died, becoming the first fatality in the United States.
Switzerland and the Netherlands have become the latest countries to report swine flu infections. In addition to Mexico and the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Germany, Spain, Israel and Austria also have confirmed cases, the AP reported.
Mexico's prevention efforts may be paying off -- the outbreak seemed to be stabilizing; confirmed swine flu cases doubled Wednesday to 99, but new deaths finally seemed to be stabilizing, the AP said.
For more on swine flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: April 30, 2009, teleconference with Richard Besser, M.D., acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Associated Press; The New York Times
Copyright © 2009 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.
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