Sunday, April 26, 2009

US expects more cases of 'widespread' swine flu

Published: Saturday April 25, 2009

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A new multi-strain swine flu virus is widespread and cannot be contained, US health authorities said Saturday, warning that they expect to identify more cases.

"With infections in many different communities as we're seeing, we don't think that containment is feasible," said Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"We are not at a point where we can keep this virus in one place ... Now that we are looking more widely, I really expect us to find more."

She told reporters that the CDC was focusing on the transmissibility of the virus, noting that influenza is generally quite transmissible.

Her comments came after the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak of the new virus transmitted between humans that has killed up to 68 people, infected hundreds in Mexico and infected eight in the United States is a "serious situation" with a "pandemic potential."

"We are worried and because we are worried, we are working aggressively on a number of fronts," said Schuchat, the interim deputy director for the CDC's science and public health program.

"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."

CDC officials were assisting public health authorities in Mexico to test additional specimens and providing epidemiologic support as part of a WHO team, she noted. The centers have also dispatched teams in southern California, where six cases were reported.

Health leaders in the US, Mexico, Canada and at the WHO were communicating frequently, and state and local US health authorities were conducting investigations.

In order to tackle the transmissibility of the virus, which Schuchat said was clearly "widespread," the United States and Mexico were using an already existing an infectious disease surveillance system along the border to test individuals with respiratory illness for influenza.

She said that two separate cases had already been detected through that system.

Mexican authorities on Friday launched a massive campaign to prevent the spread of the virus, urging people to avoid contact in public.

The CDC said tests show some of the Mexican victims died from the same new strain of swine flu that affected eight people in Texas and California, who later recovered.

There is no vaccine to protect humans from swine flu, only to protect pigs, according to the CDC.

Schuchat said measures were being taken to produce a vaccine against the virus if necessary, but cautioned that it usually takes "months" to produce a vaccine.

"We're not going to have large amounts of vaccine tomorrow," she warned.