US Flu Cases Rise, Officials Warn Will Worsen

WASHINGTON (AP) - Swine flu cases in the United States rose
above 60 on Tuesday as governments around the world intensified
steps to battle the outbreak that has killed scores of people in
Mexico. President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion to
fight the fast-spreading disease.

Federal officials suggested the flu may be spreading so fast,
there may be no practical way to contain it, and no need to tighten
borders further.

So far, there have been no deaths from the fast-spreading virus
in the United States.

Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
Atlanta said Tuesday that the number of confirmed swine flu cases
in the U.S. has jumped to 64 and states said there are at least
four more. A CDC official told a Senate panel that includes five
hospitalizations, up from one hospitalization the day before.

"Based on the pattern of illness we're seeing, we don't think
this virus can be contained... But we do think we can reduce the
impact of its spread, and reduce its impact on health," Rear. Adm.
Anne Schuchat, the CDC interim science and public health deputy
director, told a Senate Appropriations health subcommittee.
"There's a lot of anxiety right now across the country," said
subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
"It's important for people to know there's a lot that we can
do," Schuchat told Harkin. "The investments that have been made
in preparedness are making a difference."
Still, she warned, not only might the disease get worse, "it
might get much worse."
"We don't have all the answers today," she added.
Obama sent a letter to lawmakers asking them for an emergency
spending plan to build drug stockpiles and monitor future cases. He
said the money will also help international efforts to battle the
flu.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, who read the letter to reporters,
said the flu outbreak requires "prudent planning" and not panic.
Before Obama called for a supplement spending bill, Harkin said
he would push to add an additional $870 million to an upcoming
spending bill to fight the flu cases rapidly spreading around the
country. On the House side, Appropriations Committee Chairman David
Obey said he'll put additional flu-fighting funds into a bill
covering the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he
didn't specify how much.
Money to stop the spread of such a flu was stripped from a
wide-ranging stimulus bill earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
predicted that the new strain of flu, for which there is currently
no preventive vaccine, will spread to additional states in the days
ahead.
So far, the cases are still in the five states where they
previously were reported, with the vast majority, 45 of them in New
York City, 10 in California, six in Texas, two in Kansas and one in
Ohio.
Federal authorities have begun moving stockpiles of antiviral
drugs into the affected areas.
U.S. scientists hope to have a key ingredient for a swine flu
vaccine ready in early May, but are finding that the novel virus
grows slowly in eggs - the chief way flu vaccines are made. Even if
all goes well, it still will take a few months before any shots are
available for the first required safety testing, in volunteers.
"We're working together at 100 miles an hour to get material
that will be useful," Dr. Jesse Goodman, who oversees the Food and
Drug Administration's swine flu work, told The Associated Press.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy
and Infectious Diseases, said a vaccine is being developed "very
rapidly" and could be ready in time for the next flu season.
No flu-related deaths have been reported in the U.S., while
neighboring Mexico has experienced more than 150 deaths considered
likely to be caused by the flu.
Meanwhile, the State Department has set up a unit to monitor
developments related to overseas outbreaks to "try to sort out
fact from fiction and support the interagency process that's being
led by the Department of Homeland Security," spokesman Robert Wood
said Tuesday.
The department, which on Monday joined the Centers for Disease
Control in warning Americans against nonessential travel to Mexico,
has closed its embassy in Mexico City and all nine consulates in
the country to the public until May 6 in accordance with Mexican
regulations aimed at stopping the spread of the flu, he said.
Napolitano, interviewed on NBC, said officials "anticipate
confirmed cases in more states." She reiterated President Barack
Obama's statement on Monday as he grappled with the first domestic
emergency of his presidency - that the spread of the disease is a
cause for concern but not alarm.
She offered no estimate of how widely the flu might spread, nor
how many cases might eventually occur.
In addition to the cases identified by the CVC, health officials
in Michigan said they have one suspected case, and five are
suspected in New Jersey.
Asked about stricter measures, Napolitano said, "That's
something that always can be considered, but you have to look at
what the costs of that are. We literally have thousands of trucks
and lots of commerce that cross that border. We have food products
and other things that have to go across that border.
"So there's a - that would be a very, very heavy cost for - as
the epidemiologists tell us - would be marginal, if any, utility in
terms of actually preventing the spread of the virus."
Some Asian countries have deployed thermal sensors at airports
to screen passengers from North America for signs of fever.
That approach came up at Tuesday's emergency Senate hearing.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, cited school closings in Texas due to
the outbreak and asked whether more could be done at border
crossings to keep those infected with the flu out - including
temperature monitoring.
"Schools are closed and people are kind of scared," Hutchison
told a panel of federal health experts.
Schuchat, the CDC official, said that such temperature
screening, based on past experience, was "not very
robust...There's some quality of testing issues."
She suggested that border controls, in general, are tighter in
the United States than in many Asian countries doing the
temperature screening.
Furthermore, she suggested that the speed at which the flu has
already spread suggested it might be too late to try to contain it.
"I think we do need to be prepared for a worsening of the
situation," she said. "It's more of a marathon than a sprint."
Responding to questions by senators, Fauci said it was still an
open question why all of the deaths worldwide from the flu had
occurred in Mexico. One reason may simply be that it started there,
he said and that, "we are really at early days here in the United
States and we may see a worsening of the disease."
Napolitano said the administration wouldn't wait for a World
Health Organization declaration of a pandemic to deliver a
pandemic-like response.
Noting that the international health body has elevated its alert
status to Level 4 of a 6-step process, the homeland security chief
said: "We're prepared as if there were a pandemic. We're not
waiting."
---
Associated Press Writers Mary Clare Jalonick, David Espo, Phil
Elliott and Matthew Lee in Washington and Mike Strobe in Atlanta
contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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