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article imageSwine Flu Prompts U.S. to Declare Public Health Emergency

By Bob Ewing     Apr 26, 2009 in Health
Health officials in the U.S. declared a public health emergency over increasing cases of swine flu, saying that they had confirmed 20 cases of the disease in the country.
Health officials are anticipating more cases as investigators fan out to track down the path of the outbreak.
To date, most of the cases have been mild and officals are urging Americans not to panic. The emergency declaration frees government resources to be used toward diagnosing or preventing additional cases, and releases money for more antiviral drugs.
“We are seeing more cases of swine flu,” said Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, in a news conference in Washington.
“We expect to see more cases of swine flu. As we continue to look for cases, I expect we’re going to find them.” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, speaking at the same news conference called the emergency declaration “standard operating procedure,” and said it should be considered a “declaration of emergency preparedness.”
“Really that’s what we’re doing right now,” she said. “We’re preparing in an environment where we really don’t know ultimately what the size of seriousness of this outbreak is going to be.”
Health officials have confirmed eight cases in New York, seven in California, two in Kansas, two in Texas and one in Ohio, and that the cases looked to be similar to the deadly strain of swine flu that has killed more than 80 people in Mexico and infected 1,300 more.
There have been no deaths from swine flu in the United States, and only one of the people who tested positive for the disease has been hospitalized.
The United States will use “passive surveillance” in screening travelers from Mexico who would enter the country, isolating them only if they were ill. But other governments issued travel advisories urging people not to visit Mexico, the apparent origin of the outbreak, where 81 people have died and some 1,300 have been infected.
The C.D.C. in the U.S. has confirmed eight students of a high school in Queens had been infected with swine flu, the first confirmed cases in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference on Sunday.
“So far there does not seem to be any outbreak,” Bloomberg said. “We don’t know if the spread will be sustained. What’s heartening is the people who tested positive have only mild illnesses.”
There were about 100 students at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, who became ill in the last few days, and some family members have also taken ill.
Bloomberg said the school would be closed on Monday, and that officials would then reassess whether to reopen the school.
Other New York City schools will be open as usual on Monday.
A number of false alarms have also taken place; as other cases of possible infection in New York turned out to be false alarms.
For example, five of six children at a day-care center in the Tremont section of the Bronx who had shown some flu-like symptoms tested negative for swine flu, said Thomas Frieden, the city’s health commissioner.
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