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While Swine Flu Cases Are Still Rising, U.S. Officials See Hopeful Signs
Date:5/5/2009

mminent plans to raise the pandemic alert level.

What U.S. officials don't know is whether the never-before-seen virus will return, perhaps in a more dangerous form, when the regular flu season begins again late this year. Because the pathogen is a genetic mix of pig, bird and human flu strains, health officials are worried that humans may have no natural immunity to it.

Besser said Monday that the CDC continues to work to prepare a vaccine, although "the decision doesn't need to be made now whether to manufacture a vaccine" for the next flu season.

Federal health officials will be looking for clues to what the swine flu virus -- officially designated H1N1 -- will do in the fall by monitoring what happens in the Southern Hemisphere, where the flu season there is just getting under way. "That will tell us a lot about whether the virus is changing, whether it's becoming more severe and what measures we might want to take in the fall," he said.

Besser said Monday that there were more than "700 probable cases in a total of 44 states. This likely represents an underestimation of the total number of cases taking place across the country."

The World Health Organization reported Monday that the disease continues to spread around the globe, with 20 countries reporting 985 confirmed cases. Mexico heads the list of countries with 590 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection, including 25 deaths. The United States is next on the list with 226 confirmed human cases, including one death -- a 23-month-old Mexican boy who had traveled to Houston last month for medical treatment.

Currently, the WHO has labeled the outbreak a Phase 5 outbreak, meaning the disease is spreading throughout communities in at least two countries in one of WHO's six regions -- in this case the United States and Mexico. To reach Phase 6, the geographic spread of the disease would have to occur in at least one other country in another region.


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