Swine Flu: U.S. Cases Continue Climb, But Fear Declines

Although confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States dramatically climbed to 403 today—and Texas reported the first death of a U.S. resident from swine flu this afternoon—mounting evidence suggests that the 2009 A (H1N1) virus packs less of a wallop than initially feared. “The good news is this virus does not seem to be as severe as we once thought it could be based on the very early studies in Mexico,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the recently appointed secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decided that schools no longer need to close if they have swine flu cases, Sebelius announced today. “There’s a balance between the importance of making sure our children go to school every day and absorb the knowledge they need and the safety and security of those children,” she said, speaking at a CDC press conference in Atlanta, Georgia. “The president made it very clear that safety and security of the American public was his top priority as commander in chief, but he wanted the science to be the guide.”

Acting CDC Director Richard Besser said the increase in cases largely reflects the ability of state laboratories to test for the virus. And he said “some encouraging signs” have surfaced from both Mexico and the United States that infected people rarely become seriously ill from this novel virus. “What we're seeing is severity that mirrors what we've tended to see with seasonal flu,” he said.

Both Besser and Sebelius reiterated what has become the mantra during this outbreak: It’s a rapidly changing situation. “If you think back over the past 4 days where we were Friday and where we were Tuesday, we've seen an exponential growth in our understanding of what's going on,” said Besser. “But we're still in that period of major uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, at a press conference in Mexico City this morning, Mexico’s secretary of health, José Ángel Córdova, said the cases are decreasing there in number and severity, and schools are set to reopen tomorrow. He said only about one-third of their suspected cases turned out to be infected with A (H1N1). The total confirmed cases in Mexico is 866. Although Mexico once feared that the virus had killed 214 people, he says it only clearly was the cause in 26 deaths, and 74 other were not caused by swine flu. Of the remaining 140 deaths, 77 do not have samples available for testing, he said.