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Swine Flu Update

April 27, 2009

The Washington Post has a round-up of the latest news relating to the Swine Flu outbreak. The reporting of new cases has centered in Mexico and those who have become ill in other locations appear, at this early juncture at least, to have some connection with that country. There have been dozens of deaths there, as well as significant public action including shutting down the schools and banning public gatherings.

Elsewhere, new cases appear to be sporadic, without large concentrations of the sick. Additionally, the form of the virus has been described as relatively mild. For now at least, the most troubling consequences of this new form of the flu virus are centered in Mexico.

Only a few throat swabs from Mexico that have been tested in the United States and Canada have shown swine flu, which suggests that a sizeable number of Mexican illnesses may have another cause.

“How different is this from seasonal influenza? Does this virus have a different potential to cause severe illness? That is what is so critical to find out about Mexico,” a high-placed HHS scientist said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

“If you didn’t know about Mexico, what is happening here would just be a few strange cases of flu happening late in the season,” he said.

While it makes sense, then, to act prudently and for world governments, airlines, cities and individuals to exercise caution, the reaction in the US to the news of a swine flu outbreak may be more severe than the illness itself. US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed as much:

At a White House briefing today, [Ms] Napolitano said the emergency declaration was in large part a procedural step.

“That sounds more severe than really it is,” she said. “This is standard operating procedure and allows us to free up federal, state and local agencies and their resources.” She noted that the government had made the same declaration for recent flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota and for the inauguration of President Obama.

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