Swine Flu Infections DeclineThe Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the number of people infected with the H1N1 influenza virus in the U.S. has declined in most areas of the country and may be the sign that infections from the new H1N1 strain may have leveled off.
Anne Schuchat, the interim deputy director for CDC's science and public health program, said on Tuesday that states in New England, along with New York and New Jersey. are still seeing "elevated" levels of H1N1 influenza activity compared to the low levels of seasonal influenza typically seen in May.
For the rest of the country, Schuchat says the number of doctor visits for influenza-like illnesses fell below the national baseline. This may indicate that the return of the warmer weather is cutting down on the spread of the respiratory illness. But, Schuchat warns that the preliminary figures could change as states submit new data from this past Memorial Day weekend.
In the meantime officials are preparing for a "surge" of new influenza illnesses this autumn, she says, with the return of the seasonal influenza season in the Northern Hemisphere. She said the CDC and other world health officials are paying close attention to the start of the seasonal influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere and are looking at what happens to the H1N1 virus. On Friday the U.S. government announced it had earmarked $1 billion in spending to begin the process of making an H1N1 influenza vaccine. There has not been a decision on whether to move ahead with a widespread vaccination program.
One concern officials have is that the new virus could become stronger -- like the virus that caused the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. But so far the H1N1 virus hasn't shown the same biologic traits as the 1918-1919 virus. The H1N1 virus could continue circulating with the viruses that typically cause seasonal influenza, or it may die out next season.
In recent weeks most influenza viruses circulating in the U.S. have been from H1N1, not the regular influenza viruses that cause the seasonal flu, Schuchat says. The number of confirmed and likely H1N1 influenza cases totaled 6,764 in 48 states and Washington D.C., according to most recent CDC figures. Thus far 10 people have died in the U.S. The figures may underestimate the actual number of H1N1 influenza cases as most people with mild symptoms aren't being tested. Also on Tuesday, the World Health Organization stated 46 countries have officially reported 12,954 cases of H1N1 influenza infection, including 92 deaths. The U.S. and Mexico have seen the bulk of H1N1 infections. WHO's flu chief Keiji Fukuda says the virus hadn't yet reached the level of pandemic and said a global outbreak designation would change little about how governments are already responding.