TUESDAY, April 28, 2009 (Health.com) — There are now 64 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, including five people who have been hospitalized in California and Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
The CDC says some cases of swine flu will be potentially life-threatening. "I fully expect that we will see deaths from this infection," said Richard Besser, MD, acting director of the CDC, at a press briefing. "They are seeing many deaths in Mexico, and we're trying to learn more about that and why the situation in Mexico is different from here, and as we continue to investigate cases here, I expect that we will see deaths in this country."
Even ordinary seasonal flu causes many deaths each year; about 36,000 people die each year in the United States from seasonal flu, Dr. Besser said.
According to the California Department of Public Health, two deaths in the Los Angeles area have been investigated as potentially due to swine flu. One death was not caused by swine flu, and the other is still under investigation.
The World Health Organization upgraded the swine flu outbreak on Monday from level three to level four in its six-point pandemic scale. This indicates that there has been a significant movement toward a pandemic, but the outbreak still falls short of a global flu pandemic.
"What we call this means a lot less than what we do," said Dr. Besser. "What we are doing is being very aggressive looking at what's going on at the community level and adjusting and adapting our guidance and our actions based on what's taking place on the ground."
In addition to the 64 U.S. cases, there have been 26 confirmed cases in Mexico (and a reported 149 deaths), six cases in Canada, three in New Zealand, two in the United Kingdom, two in Israel, and two in Spain. (For the most recent case number, check the World Health Organization swine flu site.)
"We are in a pre-pandemic period," said Dr. Besser.
In the United States, the patients have ranged in age from 7 to 54 years, with a median age of 16; the incubation time for the virus seems to be about two to seven days (similar to seasonal flu). In general, cases have been mild except for the five hospitalized cases (three in California and two in Texas).
The CDC is also contemplating changing the name of swine flu, since the name is causing many people to think the flu can be contracted from eating pork or pork products, which is not possible.
Dr. Besser said that the CDC is currently growing stocks of the swine flu virus, which could be used to make a vaccine. "A vaccine is something we are looking at very intently," he said. "We are moving forward aggressively so if a decision is made to rev up production to make that vaccine, we would be ready to do so."
The CDC has issued a number of important recommendations, including:
How to protect yourself: Dr. Besser recommends washing your hands and using alcohol hand gels to reduce the spread of viruses, as well as covering your nose and mouth when you cough (with an arm or elbow, not your hand).
What to do if you get sick: The CDC suggests staying home if you're sick and keeping a sick child home from school. If a family member is sick and you are in an area where there are confirmed cases, other family members should consider staying home, too. You can also read more about how to take care of a sick person at home.
A travel advisory: People in the United States should avoid any nonessential travel to Mexico, the CDC says.
What schools should do: Schools in California, New York, and Texas have closed temporarily after swine flu cases were identified. The CDC recommends that schools that have a case of swine flu send students home, at least temporarily.
Who should take antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu: The CDC currently recommends antiviral medication for many people, including those who are at high risk of complications and have come into contact with someone who has a confirmed case of swine flu. The drugs should also be considered in other cases, including health-care workers in areas with swine flu cases.
More Swine Flu Stories: