Swine Flu Ohio
The number of confirmed swine-flu cases in the United States rose to 48 today, and federal health officials are trying to figure out why they have been mild while those in Mexico have been deadly.
The outbreak is evolving and changing rapidly, said Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "We expect to see additional cases and more severe."
The number of U.S. cases rose as the result of further testing at a New York City school. Other U.S. cases have been reported in Ohio, California, Kansas, New Jersey and Texas. Worldwide there were 73 cases, including six in Canada, one in Spain and two in Scotland.
The Ohio case involves a 9-year-old boy from Elyria in northern Ohio. He has a mild case and is recovering at home.
Only one person in the U.S. has been hospitalized. But the new strain of swine flu has killed 149 people in Mexico and infected nearly 2,000 people there.
"What we need to understand is why we're seeing a different disease here than we are in Mexico," Besser said. "As we gather information, we hope to sort that out."
The World Health Organization today raised its pandemic alert for swine flu by one level, two steps short of declaring a global emergency for a full-blown pandemic.
The Phase 4 alert means sustained human-to-human transmission is causing outbreaks in at least one country. The move could lead governments to set trade, travel and other restrictions aimed at limiting its spread.
It doesn't mean a pandemic is inevitable.
Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said the epidemic is entering an extremely dangerous phase, with the number of people coming down with the disease mushrooming even as authorities desperately ramp up defenses.
"We are in the most critical moment of the epidemic. The number of cases will keep rising, so we have to reinforce preventative measures," Cordova said at a news conference.
The WHO's alert system was revised after bird flu in Asia began to spread in 2004, and yesterday was the first time it had been raised above Phase 3.
Phase 6 is the pandemic phase, characterized by outbreaks in at least two regions of the world.
Many experts think it might be impossible to contain a flu virus already spreading in several countries. And, indeed, the United States said it was acting as if the outbreak would grow into a full pandemic.
The U.S. advised Americans against most travel to Mexico and ordered stepped-up border checks in neighboring states.
European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico and parts of the United States, although Besser said that including the U.S. in the advisory seemed unwarranted at this time.
State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said Vassiliou's remarks were his "personal opinion," not an official EU position.
President Barack Obama said the outbreak was reason for concern but not yet "a cause for alarm."
U.S. customs officials began checking people entering U.S. territory. Millions of doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile were on their way to states, with priority given to those already reporting infections. Federal agencies were conferring with state and international governments.
In Ohio, state health officials set up an emergency operations center to answer questions. The number - 1-866-800-1404 - is to be answered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Elyria boy and his family recently traveled to Mexico. No one in his family is showing symptoms of the flu, which has a two- to five-day incubation period, state health officials said.
The boy's school, Ely Elementary School in Elyria, closed for a week because of the boy's illness.
In Franklin County, some doctors said they expect worried calls from patients to start in a few days, while others got bombarded today.
"I walked in this morning and had about 10 e-mails and appointment requests from people wanting to see me because they were concerned," said Dr. Stephen Canowitz, a primary-care physician on the East Side.
Health officials remind people that the best way to prevent the spread of this or any flu virus is to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay away from people when you're sick.
About 36,000 Americans die of seasonal flu-related illnesses each year, including more than 3,000 in Ohio. Most are very old or very young or have other medical problems that contribute to their deaths.
Most people have never had swine flu, so it makes them sicker, said Dr. William Cotton, a Columbus pediatrician. "Because it makes you sicker, you're more susceptible to getting pneumonia, and that's what kills them, not the flu," he said. "It's a flu strain that the bulk of the population has never seen before."
Mexico canceled school at all levels nationwide until May 6, and the Mexico City government said it was considering a complete shutdown, including all public transportation.