The swine flu virus outbreak escalated today, with the total number of cases confirmed in the United States jumping to 71 and spreading to two more states, health officials said. Experts expect that figure to keep rising.
"I do expect more cases and expect more states to be affected," Rear Admiral Dr. Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's science and public health program, told a Senate hearing today. "I think we need to be prepared that even if it starts to look a little better, it may get a little worse."
To fight the epidemic, the Obama administration is asking Congress for $1.5 billion. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president was requesting the funds "out of an abundance of caution" to "enhance our nation's capability to respond to the potential spread of this outbreak."
The government's request underscores how seriously U.S. officials are treating the threat. Alarmed by the growing number of swine flu cases and the possibility that a California man may have died from the disease, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency today to help deal with the outbreak.
California has confirmed 15 cases of swine flu, and today it was investigating whether two deaths occurred as a result of the virus. According to Los Angeles County public health official Jonathan Fielding, one of the deaths has been discounted as resulting from swine flu, but the other is still being investigated. If this case is confirmed, it would be the first death in the U.S. attributed to the illness.
Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, declined to comment on the California investigation, but said, "I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection."
Florida has reported an incidence of swine flu today, and Indiana health officials confirmed this afternoon that a student at Notre Dame has swine flu. These developments bring to seven the number of states where the infections are being investigated.
In Orlando, Fla., the chief medical officer at Florida Hospital Loran Hauck indicated the flu has spread to a tourist who visiting the crowded Disney World.
"A case was diagnosed here in Orlando today on a tourist from Mexico who came to Disney attractions two days ago to visit," Hauck wrote in the email. Florida health officials have not confirmed that the tourist was stricken with swine flu.
Indiana joins Ohio, New York, Texas, Kansas and California as states with confirmed cases.
The outbreak is expected to keep growing because the CDC said today the new count includes "a number of hospitalizations."
The CDC in Atlanta has become the center for the swine flu investigation. It is one of only four laboratories in the world that have the expertise to unravel a novel flu strain.
"What we're trying to do is to identify how bad, how good, the swine flu is currently operating -- is it expanding, is it contracting, is it maintaining a steady state," said Phillip Navin, director of the Division of Emergency Operations at the CDC.
With the uptick in cases, the CDC shipped out more anti-virals and sent additional teams into the field.
"I think at the moment we need to be looking forward and making sure that we're doing everything that we can to keep people from getting sick," said Dr. Steve Reed, director of the CDC's Influeza Coordination Unit.