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Swine Flu News

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Swine Flu News

Swine flu caused more-severe illness in ferrets than seasonal flu, according to two studies in the journal Science that help explain why the H1N1 virus causes symptoms not seen in regular flu such as nausea and vomiting.

July 2 (Bloomberg) --  By Simeon Bennett

The H1N1 swine flu virus went further into the ferrets’ lungs, and also penetrated the gastrointestinal tract while seasonal flu stayed in the nasal cavity, researchers from the U.S. and the Netherlands found. Ferrets are affected by flu viruses much as humans are, the researchers said.

Swine flu has struck at least 77,201 people in 113 nations worldwide, killing 332, according to laboratory-confirmed reports compiled by the World Health Organization, which has declared the first flu pandemic since 1968. While the virus causes little more than a fever and cough in most people, a previous study showed that about 40 percent of those infected have developed symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.

“These data suggest that the 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus has the ability to persist in the human population, potentially with more severe clinical consequences,” wrote the Dutch study authors, led by Ron Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.

The two studies were published online today. Both groups found that ferrets infected with swine flu lost more weight than those exposed to seasonal flu, and that the swine flu virus was more widespread in the animals’ bodies.

When they examined the transmissibility of the virus, the two groups found conflicting evidence. Fouchier and colleagues, who used a strain of swine flu taken from the first person infected in the Netherlands, said ferrets passed it to each other through the air as easily as seasonal flu.

Efficiency Finding

The U.S. researchers, led by Terrence Tumpey at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the ferrets in their study didn’t transmit the swine flu strains they used, taken from patients in California, Texas and Mexico, as efficiently as seasonal flu strains.

Swine flu doesn’t latch on to healthy cells in the human respiratory tract as easily as seasonal flu because of a genetic mutation, the CDC researchers said.

Inefficient transmission suggests the virus would need to mutate to become as transmissible as seasonal flu or the 1918 pandemic virus, they said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Singapore at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 (CNN) -- U.S. health officials expressed concern Friday that a swine flu virus that has infected eight people in the United States matches samples of a virus that has killed at least 68 people in Mexico.
Swine flu is usually diagnosed only in pigs or people in regular contact with them.

Swine flu is usually diagnosed only in pigs or people in regular contact with them.

U.S. health experts also are concerned because more than 1,000 people have fallen ill in Mexico City in a short period of time.

"This situation has been developing quickly," said acting CDC director Richard Besser. "This is something we are worried about."

New York health officials announced Friday they are testing about 75 students at a Queens school for swine flu after the students exhibited flu-like symptoms this week.

A team of state health department doctors and staff went to the St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens on Thursday after the students reported cough, fever, sore throat, aches and pains.

There have been no confirmed cases of swine flu there. The tests results are expected as early as Saturday.

Of the 14 Mexican samples tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven were identical to the swine flu virus found in Texas and Southern California, Besser said at a news conference.

An eighth U.S. case was reported Friday. All of the eight U.S. patients have recovered, Besser said. Video Watch for more on the U.S. cases »

As a precaution to avoid further contamination, schools and universities in Mexico City and the state of Mexico were closed Friday, said the national health secretary, Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos. He said the schools may remain closed for a while.

Sixty-eight people have died in Mexico City, Cordova said at a news conference. More than 1,000 other people have gotten sick, he said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon canceled a trip Friday to northern Mexico so he could remain in Mexico City to monitor the situation, the state-run Notimex news agency reported. Calderon met with his Cabinet on Thursday night to discuss the outbreak.
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Six of the U.S. cases were found in California, and two in Texas, near San Antonio, CDC officials said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada issued a respiratory alert for Mexico on Wednesday, recommending that health providers "actively look for cases" in Canada, particularly in people who've returned from Mexico within the last two weeks.

An alert issued Friday by the International SOS medical and consulting company said more than 130 cases of a severe respiratory illness have been detected in south and central Mexico, some of which are due to influenza.

"Public health officials in Mexico began actively looking for cases of respiratory illness upon noticing that the seasonal peak of influenza extended into April, when cases usually decline in number," the medical alert said. "They found two outbreaks of illness -- one centered around Distrito Federal (Mexico City), involving about 120 cases with 13 deaths. The other is in San Luis Potosi, with 14 cases and four deaths."

Authorities also detected one death in Oaxaca, in the south, and two in Baja California Norte, near San Diego, California.

There was no indication why the International SOS tallies did not match the Mexican health secretary's figures.

The majority of cases are occurring in adults between 25 and 44 years of age.

The CDC first reported Tuesday that two California children in the San Diego area were infected with a virus called swine influenza A H1N1, whose combination of genes had not been seen before in flu viruses in humans or pigs.

The first two cases were picked up through an influenza monitoring program, with stations in San Diego and El Paso, Texas. The program monitors strains and tries to detect new ones before they spread, the CDC said. Other cases emerged through routine and expanded surveillance.

The human influenza vaccine's ability to protect against the new swine flu strain is unknown, and studies are ongoing, Schuchat said. There is no danger of contracting the virus from eating pork products, she said.

The new virus has genes from North American swine and avian influenza, human influenza, and swine influenza normally found in Asia and Europe, said Nancy Cox, chief of the CDC's Influenza Division.

The new strain of swine flu has resisted some antiviral drugs.
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    * Influenza (flu)

The CDC is working with health officials in California and Texas and expects to find more cases, Schuchat said.

A pandemic is defined as: a new virus to which everybody is susceptible; the ability to readily spread from person to person; and the capability of causing significant disease in humans, said Dr. Jay Steinberg, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta. The new strain of swine flu meets only one of the criteria: novelty.

History indicates that flu pandemics tend to occur once every 20 years or so, so we're due for one, Steinberg said.

"I can say with 100 percent confidence that a pandemic of a new flu strain will spread in humans," he said. "What I can't say is when it will occur."


Understanding Swine Flu’s World Spread: Questions and Answers
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By John Lauerman

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Swine flu has sickened at least 257 people in 11 countries, including Mexico, the U.S., New Zealand, Canada and the U.K., according to the World Health Organization.

The organization raised its six-tier pandemic alert to 5 and said the world’s first influenza pandemic since 1968 may soon be declared. Hundreds of more cases are suspected, as health officials around the world check to see whether infections have occurred in their countries and ready measures to prevent its spread.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about swine flu. The information is drawn from the data released by the World Health Organization in Geneva and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Q: What is swine flu?

A: Influenza is a virus that infects people, birds, pigs and other animals such as ferrets. Swine flu, or swine influenza, is a form of the virus that normally infects pigs. There are many forms of flu, and the different varieties have the ability to exchange genes with one another. The form of flu that originated in Mexico is a genetic mixture of viruses that have been seen in pigs, birds and people. It’s being called a swine flu because the overall structure of the virus is of the type that affects pigs, said Keiji Fukuda, a WHO official.

Q: How do people catch swine flu?

A: Studies are ongoing about how this particular swine flu is transmitted. Flu is generally transmitted through the respiratory tract. Droplets of infected body fluids may carry flu when people cough or sneeze. Studies indicate that masks called N95 respirators, when properly used, filter germs from the breath and hamper the spread of flu. Neither contact with pigs nor eating pork has been linked to the spread of the flu, Fukuda said.

Q: What are the symptoms of swine flu?

A: About one to four days usually elapse between the time a person is infected and the onset of symptoms. Influenza normally causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches, fever, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Swine flu causes the same symptoms, and may be difficult to distinguish from other strains of flu and respiratory illnesses. Severe cases of flu that lead to death are normally seen in very young and very old people whose immune systems are too weak to fight off the virus. Adults with severe illness may also have difficulty breathing, dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Q: Is there a vaccine against the swine flu that’s now spreading?

A: Flu vaccines generally contain a dead or weakened form of a circulating virus. The vaccine prepares the body’s immune system to fend off a true infection. For the vaccine to work, it must match the circulating, “wild-type” virus relatively closely. There is no vaccine currently that exactly matches the swine flu. The seasonal flu vaccine isn’t effective against swine flu, said Richard Besser, acting head of the CDC.

Vaccine makers have contacted the World Health Organization about obtaining samples of the virus needed to make a vaccine. Making flu vaccine can take three to six months. No decision has been made to order a vaccine against swine flu, Besser said.

Q: How can I tell if my child is sick?

A: Children who are breathing abnormally fast or slowly may have respiratory illness. Bluish skin indicates a need for quick attention. Children who are abnormally sluggish and sleepy, irritable, or have fever or rash may also need attention.

Q: Have there been outbreaks of swine flu before?

A: Yes. Health officials said in 1976 that an outbreak of swine flu in people might lead to a pandemic. Widespread vaccination was carried out in the U.S. before experts determined that the virus was not dangerous enough to cause a pandemic. Swine flu occasionally infects people in the U.S. without causing large outbreaks. From 2005 through January 2009, there were 12 reported swine flu cases in the U.S. None of them caused deaths.

Q: Why are health officials concerned about the outbreak of swine flu?

A: When flu viruses mix genes with one another, they can take on new forms. New flu viruses are harder for the human immune system to defend against. With little or no opposition from the immune resistance, the virus can grow quickly and invade many tissues and organs. They may also set off a harmful immune overreaction in the body, called a “cytokine storm,” that may be lethal in itself. The swine flu virus from Mexico may have the ability to spread quickly and kill people, possibly causing a worldwide pandemic, according to the WHO. Researchers are conducting studies to determine how easily the virus spreads in people and how dangerous it is.

Q: What’s a flu pandemic?

A: A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus spreads quickly and few people have immunity. While influenza viruses were only discovered about a century ago, researchers believe flu pandemics hit about two or three times each century. Some pandemics kill a few million people globally. The most severe flu pandemic on record was the 1918 Spanish Flu. Researchers estimate it killed about 50 million people around the world.

Q: Are there any similarities between the swine flu and earlier pandemic viruses?

A: Flu viruses are classified by two proteins on their surface, called H for hemagglutinin and N for neuraminidase. The swine flu found in Mexico and the 1918 Spanish Flu viruses are of the H1N1 subtype. Both viruses appear to have originated in animals. Researchers believe the Spanish Flu spread to people from birds. The two viruses are not identical, and there are still many genetic differences between them that researchers are studying.

Q: Do all H1N1 viruses cause pandemics?

A: No. H1N1 descendants of the Spanish Flu virus continue to circulate in people and sometimes cause outbreaks of seasonal flu.

Q: Are there drugs that treat swine flu?

A: Yes. Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Relenza both react against swine flu. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released 25 percent of its stockpile of Tamiflu and Relenza, according to Secretary Janet Napolitano. Flu viruses sometimes develop resistance to antiviral drugs. The human form of H1N1 seasonal flu that’s currently circulating is resistant to Roche’s Tamiflu (not Relenza). If the two viruses were to exchange genes, the swine flu might become resistant, too. The drugs should be administered within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, according to the CDC.

Tamiflu and Relenza may also help prevent swine flu in people who have been exposed to someone who was sick.

Q: How else can I protect myself from swine flu?

A: Personal hygiene measures, such as avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing and frequent hand-washing, may prevent flu infection. Those who aren’t health professionals should avoid contact with sick people. People who get sick with flu symptoms should stay home. Studies have suggested that closing schools, theaters, and canceling gatherings in the early stages of a pandemic can limit its spread. Such measures would likely take place if health officials determine that the virus is spreading quickly enough and is deadly enough to cause a pandemic.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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