The number of people who have been confirmed as contracting the deadly Mexican strain of swine flu that seems to be popping up everywhere has doubled in the United States, according to the official report given Monday by interim director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prention (CDC) Dr. Richard Besser at 1 p.m. in Atlanta. The conference could also be followed on their website at CDC.gov, where an audiofile was set up for access following the briefing. After a brief synopsis of what was known about the current swine flue epidemic, Dr. Besser answered questions from the conference room and from reporters via telephone.
After confirming that the new total of confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S had reached 40 in five states, Besser was quick to point out that the additional 20 were all students at the New York preparatory school that had seen 8 confirmed cases on Sunday. Still, only one American had been hospitalized. There were as yet no fatalities, with the youngest of the victims being 7 years old, the oldest 54.
He stated that the CDC wanted to take “bold action” to help minimize the effect of the virus.
Dr. Richard Besser also confirmed 26 people who had died in Mexico had, according to testing done at the CDC, died of the swine flu virus. As many as 1,500 people are believed to have contracted the disease in Mexico, with over 100 suspected deaths from it. Besser said that with that information and the likelihood that the disease will only get worse in the coming weeks, the CDC announced it would issue a travel advisory warning nonessential personnel from visiting Mexico.
Mexico had already issued a national state of emergency. The United States issued a state of emergency as well. Dr. Besser explained that doing so allowed the CDC and the government to have more authority in dealing with the potential domestic threat. It was through this increased authority that the government was able to release about one-quarter of the stockpiled antivirals (about 12.5 million) were released for distribution in states where swine flu cases had been confirmed.
“Control of the spread of an infectious disease is a shared responsibility,” Besser also stressed. He said that it was highly dependent on individuals, communities, and the government doing what was necessary to control or prevent the spread of the contagion.
When asked if they had as yet been able to match up viruses at the different outbreak locations, Dr. Besser said, “It matters less what we call this and more on the actions we take.”
As for prevention, Besser told one reporter who asked about the effectiveness of wearing masks that facial coverings had been found not to be all that effective in preventing transmission except as a psychological comfort. He suggested that the best defense against the contagion was hand washing, no greeting kisses, and less overall physical contact.
Besser also reassured the public that the virus could not be contracted through eating pork. He also admitted that the CDC still had not discovered a link between people and pigs, but were reluctant to rule it out. He was also reluctant to say that person-to-person contact was the only way the contagion was being transmitted but said that it was the normal method of tranmission.
Dr. Besser stated that preparedness and in identifying the contagion and controlling it was imperative. In fact, Besser said that although Mexico seemed to be the epicenter of the growing epidemic, the first case of confirmed swine flu was in San Diego, where preparedness testing was taking place.
The CDC will be sending test kits to different states in order to help quickly identify potential swine flu victims.
When asked about the European Union’s statement of a travel advisory that included Mexico and the United States, Besser took exception, stating that the numbers of affected people in the United States were few and isolated and as yet did not warrant such a response from the EU. He said their advisory was “premature.”
Besser believes that there will be many more cases and that authorities and the public have to be prepared for the worst, including deaths.