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Swine Flue Spreading "Too Fast To Count"

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May 12, 2009 – Comments (10)

Swine flu spreading too fast to count, CDC says
Confirmed cases are only the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ health official says
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12:42 p.m. PT, Mon., May 11, 2009

Swine flu is spreading so far and fast in the U.S. that state health officials may soon stop counting individual cases, a federal health official said Monday.

The novel H1N1 virus accounted for 40 percent of flu viruses logged in the U.S. in the past week and helped propel an uptick in overall flu-like illnesses, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, a deputy director with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think the cases we’re confirming are the tip of the iceberg here,” Schuchat said in a press briefing Monday.

The CDC has confirmed 2,600 cases in 43 states and Washington D.C., with 94 hospitalizations and three deaths. Another 700 cases are suspected. Although the flu is spreading quickly, it remains relatively mild in the U.S., say health officials.

“They tell us for sure this virus is circulating throughout the United States and it’s likely to be in every state,” Schuchat said, adding: “It’s a time when we really need to guard against complacency as we move to a new normal.”

The CDC has started tracking the novel virus using the surveillance system used for seasonal influenza, called FluView.

Because many states did not report cases over the past weekend, Schuchat said she expects a big jump in cases to be reported Tuesday.

So far, three people in the U.S. have died from complications of swine flu. On Saturday, Washington state health officials reported the death of a man in his 30s. America’s other two swine flu deaths — a toddler and a pregnant woman — each suffered from several other illnesses when they were infected with the virus, according to a study released Thursday.

Health officials said the Washington victim had underlying heart conditions and viral pneumonia when he died Thursday from what appeared to be complications from swine flu.

“We’re working with local and federal partners to track this outbreak,” said Washington State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky.

The man was not further identified. He began showing symptoms on April 30, and was treated with anti-viral medication. Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Snohomish Health District medical director, said medical officials hadn’t been able to isolate any “risk factors” for the man to identify where he might have been exposed.

Neighboring Canada reported its first death from swine flu on Friday — a woman who was in her 30s. Alberta's chief medical officer says the woman from northern Alberta and did not travel recently. He says she also had other medical conditions. Dr. Andre Corriveau made the announcement at a news conference Friday.

The report by the CDC presented a clearer picture of the complicated medical situations faced by those who have gotten swine flu and had the most serious cases so far.

The Mexican toddler had a chronic muscle weakness called myasthenia gravis, a heart defect, a swallowing problem and lack of oxygen. Little Miguel Tejada Vazquez fell ill and died during a family visit to Texas.

The pregnant woman, Judy Trunnell, 33, was hospitalized for two weeks until she died Tuesday. The teacher was in a coma, and her baby girl was delivered by cesarean section. According to the report, she had asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, a skin condition called psoriasis and was 35 weeks pregnant.

People with chronic illnesses are at greatest risk for severe illness from the flu, along with the elderly and young children. So far, most of those with the swine flu in the U.S. and Mexico have been young adults.

“We’re still learning about what patients are most at risk” from the new virus, said Dr. Fatima Dawood, a CDC epidemiologist.

The CDC report released by the New England Journal of Medicine also provided more detailed information on 22 people hospitalized with swine flu. Nine had chronic medical conditions, including the two who died and a 25-year-old man with Down syndrome and a congenital heart disease. Five of the patients had asthma alone.

President Barack Obama said Friday that public health agencies must reach all corners of the nation when providing information on matters such as swine flu.

The president dropped by a town hall-style meeting at the White House co-sponsored by the Spanish-language media company Univision.

He said, "we're all in this together. We're one country, we're one community. When one person gets sick, it has the potential of making us all sick."

‘We’re still learning’
Last week, the CDC also described the symptoms experienced by Americans with swine flu. About 90 percent reported fever, 84 percent reported cough and 61 percent reported a sore throat — all similar to what’s seen with seasonal flu. But about one in four cases have also involved either vomiting or diarrhea, which is not typical for the normal flu bug.

It’s possible the virus is spreading not only through coughed and sneezed droplets — as with seasonal flu — but also through feces-contaminated hands, said Dawood.

“This is a new virus and we’re still learning how transmission occurs,” she said.

About 10 percent of the Americans who got swine flu had traveled to Mexico and likely picked up the infection there.

Reuters contributed to this report

10 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On May 12, 2009 at 1:17 AM, RonChapmanJr (89.98) wrote:

I live in Atlanta (CDC headquarters) and some are saying that we've had swine flu in the states for a long time, but are just now monitoring it because of the deaths in Mexico.  Interesting thought.

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#2) On May 12, 2009 at 1:46 AM, DarkToast (48.37) wrote:

The very old, the very young, and the feeble succumb to influenza. We will probably see this surge in the fall when flu season typically begins.

The swine flu has quite a ways to go as far as body count before it can catch up with the 'normal' flu. The regular seasonal flu has killed more than 13,000 Americans since January, and kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people worldwide annually.

This is more of a media event, like SARS, than a medical event. More people have probably died from bee stings than the swine flu in the past week.

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#3) On May 12, 2009 at 1:57 AM, automaticaev (27.89) wrote:

invest in gas mask companys and companies that make tin foil cuz soon everyone will be makin tin foil hats to keep obamas satalites from controling their minds.

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#4) On May 12, 2009 at 2:10 AM, awallejr (85.41) wrote:

CDC even acknowledged "swine" flu is not a pandemic on the level of 1918 flu.  It is basically mild.  Maybe it might resurface "changed" come the fall, and maybe not.  Much ado about nothing. 

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#5) On May 12, 2009 at 2:33 AM, uclayoda87 (29.18) wrote:

It is more likely that C reachs $100.00 per share this year than this minor virus causing more than a few hundred deaths.  Since an average flu virus causes about 100 deaths per day during the flu season, a few hundred total is quite small.

Keep focused on the market, this flu thing was a made for TV crisis, probably designed to help Obama transition into talking points for his health care plan.

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#6) On May 12, 2009 at 2:36 AM, automaticaev (27.89) wrote:

if you want to get technical most of the deaths are actually caused by a complication that the flu caused. I.e heart overstressed and stops.  So you actually died of heart stopping.

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#7) On May 12, 2009 at 3:13 PM, portefeuille (99.61) wrote:

Preliminary research into the H1N1 outbreak in Mexico indicated that the virus is slightly more dangerous than the one that caused a million deaths in the 1968 pandemic, but that it is nowhere near as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed 50 million.

(from here: Swine flu 'is on a par with 1957 pandemic that killed 2m')

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#8) On May 12, 2009 at 3:28 PM, portefeuille (99.61) wrote:

some more for those who do not like to click ... :

some more for those who do not like to click ... :
Swine flu is behaving like the 1957 pandemic virus that killed about two million people worldwide, according to the first detailed scientific analysis of its spread.

Preliminary research into the H1N1 outbreak in Mexico indicated that the virus is slightly more dangerous than the one that caused a million deaths in the 1968 pandemic, but that it is nowhere near as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed 50 million.

Transmission rates for swine flu are also similar to those of previous pandemics, with each person with the virus infecting between 1.4 and 1.6 others, the first study published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Rapid Pandemic Assessment Collaboration found. The Mexican evidence indicates that the virus has a fatality rate of about 0.4 per cent.

The scientists have estimated that about 23,000 people contracted swine flu in Mexico before the end of April, when the WHO had confirmed only 257 infections worldwide, 97 of which were in Mexico. The number of confirmed cases rose yesterday to 4,694, including 53 deaths.
The findings were published in the journal Science, which expedited its peer-review procedures because of the significance for public health.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, London, who led the research, said it showed that the threat posed by the virus remained very real. The most similar historical precedent was the 1957 “Asian flu”, he told The Times. “We still don’t know how lethal it is, but very preliminary calculations for Mexico suggest it is a little worse than 1968 — it might be more like 1957,” he said.

...

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#9) On May 12, 2009 at 4:36 PM, awallejr (85.41) wrote:

Don't get me wrong.  This flu certainly should not be brushed off either.  But apparently it is treateable and they do expect a vaccine for it in a few months from what I've read.  Obviously the people in most danger would be places with horrible medical services.  Proper precautions are being taken, which is good.  But some might be over blowing the whole thing as a major negative market impact story, for whatever agenda.

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#10) On May 12, 2009 at 4:44 PM, stockfreak1 (20.63) wrote:

My only two cents are that I remember the study that said colds and flu are most prevalent in the winter because of the lack of moisture. This thing is spreading fairly well in the summer... This will be probably the only time I can remember that I'm grateful for not being in a big city.  

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