HOUSTON (Reuters) – A Texas woman with the new H1N1 flu died earlier this week, state health officials said on Tuesday, the second death outside of Mexico, where the epidemic appeared to be waning. Officials said the woman, who was in her 30s, had other health problems. U.S. health officials have predicted that the swine flu virus would spread and inevitably kill some people, just as seasonal flu does. Last week a Mexican toddler visiting Texas also died. Mexican officials have reported 29 confirmed deaths.
The World Health Organization was monitoring the spread of the virus and said 21 countries have officially reported 1,490 cases. The United States has 403 confirmed cases in 38 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, with another 700 “probable” cases. Canada has reported 165 cases. “Those numbers will go up, we anticipate, and unfortunately there are likely to be more hospitalizations and more deaths,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
Health officials said the outbreak seemed to be slowing in Mexico, the country hardest-hit by the virus, which is a mixture of swine viruses and some elements of human and bird flu. At the same time, infections were breaking out globally and are expected to spread. (Snip)
The question remained how far the virus would spread and how serious would it be. The WHO remained at pandemic alert level 5, meaning a pandemic is imminent. “If it spreads around the world you will see hundreds of millions of people get infected,” the WHO’s Dr. Keiji Fukuda told a news briefing. If it continues to spread outside the Americas, the WHO would likely move to phase 6, a full pandemic alert. This would prompt countries to activate pandemic plans, distribute antiviral drugs and antibiotics and perhaps advise people to take other precautions like limiting large gatherings.
“It’s not so much the number of countries, but whether the virus sets up shop in any of those countries like it has here and starts to spread person to person. And given the number of countries that have cases, one would think that eventually that criteria would be met,” said acting CDC director Dr. Richard Besser. He and Fukuda said it would be important to watch the Southern Hemisphere, where winter and the flu season are just beginning.
Other pandemics have started with a mild new virus in spring that has come back to cause severe disease later in the year. WHO said it would begin sending 2.4 million treatment courses of Roche AG’s and Gilead Sciences Inc’s Tamiflu, an antiviral proven effective against the new flu, to 72 nations, including Mexico. Fukuda said the WHO was still trying to answer the most pressing questions, including why more people have died in Mexico than anywhere else.