Saturday, 2 May 2009

New York cannot test all Swine Flu

New York Tests

New York health officials will test for swine flu only in patients
with a severe illness or if there's a cluster of cases, Health
Commissioner Thomas Frieden said at a news conference yesterday. All
of New York's 49 confirmed cases and the more than 1,000 suspected
have had symptoms similar to those of seasonal flu, he said.

This is bad news. It shows that as the number of cases increase, it
become difficult to confirm whether it is Swine Flu(H1N1 A) or other

Swine Flu Widens; Symptoms No Worse Than Seasonal Bug (Update2)
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By Tom Randall

May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Swine flu reached 15 countries and there's
evidence the new virus is spreading in five nations among people
unconnected to Mexico. The symptoms may be no more severe than
seasonal flu, health officials said.

In little more than a week, world health authorities have tracked the
emergence of swine flu, formally known as H1N1, from a few cases in
Texas and California to the brink of the first influenza pandemic
since 1968. Thousands of cases were suspected. At least 433 U.S.
schools closed yesterday, a hotel was quarantined in Hong Kong and
Continental Airlines Inc. cut seating capacity on flights to Mexico in

The U.K., U.S., Germany, Canada and Spain each confirmed cases in
people who didn't travel to Mexico, where the virus has struck
hardest. The expanding wave of sickness has been similar to seasonal
flu, though health authorities are taking no chances with a virus that
may flash across the globe, infecting a population with no natural
immunity, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Even though we might be seeing only mild cases now, we cannot say
what will happen in the future," Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the
World Health Organization, told reporters yesterday. "If at the end of
the day it remains a mild pandemic or if we can somehow avert the
worst of the disease or stop the worst of the disease, then that's
fantastic. We will have done our job well."

Ten Deaths

South Korea confirmed its first case today, in a 51-year- old nun who
returned home April 26 after a week-long period of aid activities in
Morelos, Mexico, health authorities in the North-Asian nation said.
They're treating a 44-year-old colleague as a "probable" infection and
the nation's first case of human-to-human transmission.

A Tokyo laboratory is testing to determine if a baby at a U.S.
military base in Japan is infected.

Hong Kong, France and Denmark confirmed their first cases yesterday.
Hong Kong declared a public-health emergency after detecting the virus
in a 25-year-old traveler from Mexico, and cordoned off the hotel in
which he was staying, confining guests and staff.

The Geneva-based WHO raised its six-tier pandemic alert to 5 on April
29 and may move soon to the highest level. Stage 6 would signal a
pandemic and alert governments to enact plans against the disease.

The virus is already at pandemic level, according to Ira Longini, a
researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle who advises the
U.S. government on flu.

Pandemic Level

"The definition of a pandemic is that the new virus has spread to
several countries and is transmissible," Longini said in an interview
yesterday. "It's hard to imagine it's not going to continue to spread
in some form."

Laboratory tests verified that at least 615 people in North America,
Europe, Asia and New Zealand had the illness, with 10 deaths,
according to WHO's Web site. New York officials said they suspect more
than 1,000 cases, so many that the government has stopped testing all
but the sickest there.

"We need to prepare for the long-term," President Barack Obama said
yesterday in Washington. "Even if it turns out that the H1N1 is
relatively mild on the front end, it could come back in a more
virulent form during the actual flu season."

Evidence suggests "transmission is widespread, and that less severe
illness is common," the Atlanta-based CDC said in a report yesterday.
In Mexico, where WHO said nine of the world's 10 confirmed deaths from
the virus occurred, "a large number of undetected cases of illness
might exist in persons seeking care in primary-care settings or not
seeking care at all," the CDC report said.

New York Tests

New York health officials will test for swine flu only in patients
with a severe illness or if there's a cluster of cases, Health
Commissioner Thomas Frieden said at a news conference yesterday. All
of New York's 49 confirmed cases and the more than 1,000 suspected
have had symptoms similar to those of seasonal flu, he said.

In the U.S., at least 433 schools closed yesterday in 17 states,
leaving parents to find other arrangements for 245,449 students,
according to the Education Department. Five colleges closed, the
department said in an e-mail.

The CDC raised its flu count to 141 cases in 19 states, including the
only U.S. fatality, a 22-month-old child who died April 27 at a
Houston hospital.

Pigs, People, Birds

The new influenza strain, a conglomeration of genes from swine, bird
and human viruses, poses the biggest threat of a flu pandemic since
2003, when the H5N1 strain killed millions of birds and hundreds of
people, William Schaffner, an influenza expert at Vanderbilt
University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, said in an
interview yesterday.

"In Nashville, we are getting the sense that out in our community
there is a lot of relatively mild influenza illness among children and
increasing among their parents -- much of this is suspected to be
H1N1," Schaffner said. "By now our usual influenza season is over by
weeks, but that's clearly not the case."

The 2003 avian flu killed more than half of the people who got it. It
didn't spread from person to person and only infected 421 people. The
Spanish flu of 1918, another version of bird flu, killed as many as 50
million people in one of history's deadliest outbreaks.

Evolving Viruses

"There are some genetic tests that have shown the virus we're dealing
with right now does not have the factors that we think made the 1918
virus so bad," said Julie Gerberding, former head of the CDC, in an
interview yesterday on ABC News. "But we have to be careful not to
over-rely on that information, because these flu viruses always

Batches of seed virus are being developed for potential vaccine
production, according to WHO. Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis SA, Baxter
International Inc. of Deerfield, Illinois, and GlaxoSmithKline Plc of
London are talking with world health authorities about producing
shots, the agency said.

"It seems most likely that the manufacturers will proceed and we will
certainly support them," Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO's vaccine director,
told reporters in Geneva.

Production of vaccines against the new H1N1 influenza will be
completed "in parallel with or after the seasonal vaccine is
produced," Nancy Cox, chief of the flu division at the CDC's Center
for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, at a news conference today
in Atlanta.

Jose Cordova, the health minister in Mexico, said yesterday the number
of H1N1 flu cases confirmed by laboratory tests climbed to 381 and the
death toll rose to 16. Deaths will probably continue, he said.

Flights Cut

Continental Airlines Inc. cut seating to Mexico in half, AirTran
Holdings Inc. trimmed two weekly flights and Delta Air Lines Inc.
began using smaller planes as swine flu concerns reduced travel.

WHO's statistics, which lag behind those reported by national and
local agencies, confirmed cases in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, the U.K.,
Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Spain,
Israel, Hong Kong and New Zealand. France and South Korea have also
confirmed cases.

The three main seasonal flu strains -- H3N2, H1N1 and type- B -- cause
250,000 to 500,000 deaths a year globally, according to WHO. The new
flu's symptoms are similar, including fever and coughing, nausea and
vomiting, according to the CDC.

Authorities advised hand-washing, hygiene and staying home if sick as
the most effective ways to control the outbreak.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Randall in New York at
Last Updated: May 2, 2009 02:29 EDT

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