U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency, Confirms 20 Cases Around the Country

PHOTO As U.S. officials warn that the number of swine flu cases in the country are likely to increase, there are a number of steps Americans can do to protect themselves and their children from this unique virus.

Amid confirmation that 20 Americans have been diagnosed with the swine flu, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said they fear death in the United States as they expect more cases of the virus to emerge.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said it is premature to say the disease in the United States is different than the one that has killed about 86 people in Mexico, and how serious this new virus is compared to typical flu viruses remains to be seen. On Sunday, Canada became the third country to confirm human cases of the unique virus.

Earlier today, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the government declared a public health emergency, which will allow it to free up resources to tackle the issue.

At a White House press conference, Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ensured Americans that the administration is taking aggressive steps to control the outbreak, but that more cases are likely to expect to emerge in the near future.

"Flu viruses are very unpredictable. Outbreak of infectious diseases are very unpredicatable," Besser said. "We view this more as a marathon. We think this will continue to spread but we are taking aggresive action."

There is no vaccination for the swine flu strain, which has elements of pig, bird and human strains. But officials said they have ramped up medical surveillance around the country and as part of the emergency declaration, freed up state and federal resources for prevention. Officials also emphasized the importance of individual care and good hygenic pratices.

The news came on the heels of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement that eight students at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens were confirmed to be infected with the swine flu. About 100 students reported flu-like symptoms at the school, which will be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

"The numbers here are not important, what's important is that at the school we have a confirmed cluster of swine flu," New York Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said. "It's obviously concerning to have a new strain. It's obviously concerning the size of the number of students affected at the school ... However, it's reassuring that every case ... has been mild. Many are already improving and with careful looks at the intensive care units in the city we have not identified an increase in severly ill people who may have this infection."

Eight people have been confirmed diagnosed in New York City, one in Ohio, two in Texas and seven in California.

Officials dusted off the idea of a bio-terrorist threat. "There is nothing we have seen in our work that would suggest anything but a naturally occuring event," Besser said.

Besser confirmed that the virus found in Americans is the same as that in Mexicans, but that they have not been able to determine why the impact of the flu has been more severe in Mexico, where about 86 people have died from the disease. In the U.S., only one person infected had to be hospitalized. Officials stressed they are taking an aggressive approach to tackling the issue -- they have released 12.5 million of the nation's stockpile of 50 million courses of Tamiflu, a drug that has shown itself at least initially to be effective against the flu virus -- but used cautious language in descrbing whether it could be contained.

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