Swine flu is spreading more widely than official figures indicate, with outbreaks in Europe and Asia showing it’s gained a foothold in at least three regions.
One in 20 cases is being officially reported in the U.S., meaning more than 100,000 people have probably been infected nationwide with the new H1N1 flu strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the U.K., the virus may be 300 times more widespread than health authorities have said, the Independent on Sunday reported yesterday.
From Centers for Disease Control Briefing this afternoon:
Dr. Anne Schuchat: … My first statement to you is the H1N1 is not going away, despite what you may have heard. As you know, the World Health Assembly is convening from Geneva, and the Department of Health and Human Services is at the Assembly. We are expecting the H1N1 issue to dominate the meeting, and I wanted to alert you to Director General Margaret Chan’s statement from the W.H.O. She said that influenza viruses are the ultimate moving target, and I think that really captures that scenario we’re coping with right now. This novel H1N1 virus is still circulating in the United States. People are continuing to get sick, to get hospitalized, and unfortunately, to die. At this point, there are six deaths that have been reported officially. And, you know, we feel for the families that are experiencing those losses. …
Dr. Schuchat was asked if H1N1 has a higher death rate than seasonal influenza:
Dr. Schuchat: … You know, the death rate – are we seeing more fatalities than we would expect with seasonal influenza, or a higher proportion of illness than with seasonal influenza? I think our best estimate right now is that the fatality is likely a little bit higher than seasonal influenza, but not necessarily substantially higher. On the other hand, the hospitalizations that we’re tracking have this disproportionate occurrence among younger persons. That’s very unusual to have, you know, so many people under 20 requiring hospitalization and in some of those intensive care units. We’re trying to actively investigate those and get better characteristics of what the illness looks like. …
- Swine Flu Kills New Yorker, Virus Not Going Away – Bloomberg
- U.S. Health Officials Troubled by New Flu Pattern – Reuters
- Japan Acts to Contain Swine Flu Outbreak – New York Times
Swine Flu Update, Monday, April 4 – WHO Ready to Declare Full Pandemic; Debate Still On Over World Reaction
The World Health Organization is likely to raise its flu alert to the top of its six-point scale and declare a pandemic, its director-general indicated in an interview published on Monday.
In remarks setting the scene for another alert increase, but without saying when, WHO chief Margaret Chan warned against over-confidence following a stabilization in the number of new cases of the H1N1 strain that has proved deadly in Mexico.
“Level 6 does not mean, in any way, that we are facing the end of the world. It is important to make this clear because (otherwise) when we announce level 6 it will cause an unnecessary panic,” she told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
- Mexico to begin lifting flu curbs – BBC
- Health officials are wary but hopeful – Washington Post
- Goes person to pig – Could it jump back? – Associated Press
Now that the swine flu virus has passed from a farmworker to pigs, could it jump back to people? The question is important, because crossing species again could make it more deadly.
The never-before-seen virus was created when genes from pig, bird and human viruses mixed together inside a pig. Experts fear the virus that has gone from humans back into pigs in at least one case could mutate further before crossing back into humans again. But no one can predict what will happen.
“Could it gain virulence? Yes,” Juan Lubroth, an animal health expert at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, said Sunday. “It could also become milder. It could go in both directions.”
- Key developments on Swine Flu worldwide – Associated Press
The New York Times today has a great story and chart outlining past American epidemics and the government’s reaction. My favorite part is the “scapegoats” section for each epidemic. Click the graphic below to go to the full-sized original:
I came across this story from Reuters tonight and what struck me is that it was just reasonable, dispassionate information. It’s not just that there’s a lot of hype over a new flu strain that appears to be, well, just like the flus I’ve had in my life. There’s also a lot of peaks and valleys in how the story is being covered, as if the media can’t figure out whether we should all shelter in place or vacation in Cancun as a sign of solidarity with the Mexican people.
The gist of the story is to lay out the scenarios for where H1N1 could go from here. Written by Reuters’ Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox, it’s what I want as far as information goes.
- Flu prompts shutdowns in Texas, Mexico – New York Times
- Real-Time Swine Flu Blog – The Guardian (U.K.)
This blog has short, informative posts throughout the day on what’s going on around the world with the flu.
- Mexico: Number of new cases stabilizing – Houston Chronicle
Jose Angel Cordova says he hopes that trend will continue and that a vaccine will be available in six months.
He says Mexico has 260 confirmed swine flu cases, including 12 deaths. But he says he’ll stop updating his count of suspected cases and deaths, which had stood at about 2,500 and 168.
- Scientists see this flu strain as relatively mild – Los Angeles Times
Flu viruses are known to be notoriously unpredictable, and this strain could mutate at any point — becoming either more benign or dangerously severe. But mounting preliminary evidence from genetics labs, epidemiology models and simple mathematics suggests that the worst-case scenarios are likely to be avoided in the current outbreak.
“This virus doesn’t have anywhere near the capacity to kill like the 1918 virus,” which claimed an estimated 50 million victims worldwide, said Richard Webby, a leading influenza virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
President Obama: Please, be seated. Before we begin tonight, I just want to provide everyone with a few brief updates on some of the challenges we’re dealing with right now.
First, we are continuing to closely monitor the emergency cases of the H1N1 flu virus throughout the United States. As I said this morning, this is obviously a very serious situation, and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations.
Our public health officials have recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of this flu strongly consider temporarily closing. And if more schools are forced to close, we’ve recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if their children do have to stay home.
Swine Flu Update: April 28, P.M. – Mexican Pig Farm Source, U.S. Cases Rise, More Travel Restrictions to Mexico Worldwide
- Pig farm seen as source – Houston Chronicle
- New infections intensify travel fears – Reuters
- Flu spreads to 7 countries – New York Times
- CA Governor declares flu emergency – Los Angeles Times
- Worldwide response – BBC
- Pandemic plans stepped up – Guardian (U.K.)
- Experts study flu’s variations – Washington Post
- Travelers told to avoid Mexico – New York Times
International fears of a pandemic rose Monday as the number of people killed by the swine flu in Mexico climbed to 149. At least four other countries have confirmed cases and many others have stepped up testing as well as issuing advisories about traveling to Mexico and the United States.
By the afternoon, the World Health Organization had raised its threat level of a pandemic alert, and markets in Europe and Asia had been unnerved by the concerns.
In raising its threat level to 4 from 3, a decision likely to prompt more travel warnings, the W.H.O. emphasized that “a pandemic is not considered inevitable.” But it acknowledged that containment of swine flu now moot, and mitigation is its main concern. “The situation is fluid and will continue to evolve,” it said in a statement.
- NYC cases hit 28 – New York Post
- Mexico counts 149 dead from flu – Reuters
- First confirmed cases in Britain and Spain – Washington Post
- Swine Flu fears depress markets - Wall Street Journal
Read related story at the New York Times
(Source: White House Press Office)
White House Press Briefing – Swine Flu – April 26, 2009
Janet Naplolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security
John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security
Dr. Richard Besser, Acting Director, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Robert Gibbs, Press Secretary
12:34 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, guys. Thank you for taking some time out of your Sunday afternoon. We wanted to bring together many of the people that have the primary governmental responsibility in dealing with the situation and to discuss the government’s capacity and capability to discuss the steps the government is taking to address this.
- U.S. declares public health emergency over Swine Flu – New York Times
Governments around the world stepped up their response to the outbreak, racing to contain the infection amid reports of potential new cases from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Spain, raising concerns about the potential for a global pandemic.
Canada also confirmed six cases of the flu on Sunday, all of them linked to people who had traveled to Mexico.
Health and Homeland Security officials announced steps to release some of the country’s stockpiles of anti-flu drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza. They recommended that local authorities plan for possible school closures and for people with flu-like symptoms to stay at home to reduce the possibility of transmission.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it was too early to say what impact the outbreak could have on efforts to get the economy back on its feet. Spiraling health-care costs are already a huge drain on the economy.
- Fears of Swine Flu pandemic increase – Washington Post
“As we continue to look for cases, we are going to see a broader spectrum of disease,” predicted Dr. Richard Besser, acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’re going to see more severe disease in this country.”
At a White House news conference, Besser and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sought to assure Americans that health officials are taking all appropriate steps to minimize the impact of the outbreak.
Top among those is declaring the public health emergency. As part of that, Napolitano said roughly 12 million doses of the drug Tamiflu will be moved from a federal stockpile to places where states can quickly get their share if they decide they need it. Priority will be given to the five states with known cases so far: California, Texas, New York, Ohio and Kansas.
- New flu too widespread to be contained – Reuters
“It is clear that this is widespread. And that is why we have let you know that we cannot contain the spread of this virus,” the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters on a conference call.
- WHO meets but no action on Swine Flue – Reuters
An emergency meeting of influenza experts discussed the swine flu outbreaks in Mexico and the United States but did not take any decisions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Saturday.
- Mexico City cancels public events – Reuters
Mexico city’s health secretary, Armando Ahued, said no new flu deaths had been reported since Friday, when Mexico gave the death toll as 20 confirmed and 48 other possible deaths. In all, 1,004 suspected cases have been reported nationwide.
Mexico has shut schools, cinemas and museums and canceled public events in its sprawling, overcrowded capital of 20 million people to try to prevent further infections. Weekend soccer matches were played in empty stadiums and people on the street wore face masks.
- Mexico scrambles to contain flu outbreak – Los Angeles Times
- Swine flu could become Pandemic says WHO – CNN