Swine Flue Spreading "Too Fast To Count"
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