The first American death from swine flu has intensified a drive by health officials to make sure the public remains vigilant against the disease. Vaccine manufacturers say that they are in a good position to produce mass quantities of a potential vaccine should the outbreak take a turn for the worse.
Concerns about a vaccine have been at the forefront of plans to curb the swine flu virus, and The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that the Obama administration may even be considering a vaccination plan this fall for Americans that would involve a battery of three shots, two of which would be against the new viral threat.
Such a plan has not yet been confirmed to be in the works. Still, health officials told lawmakers Wednesday it took only two weeks to identify the genetic characteristics of swine flu, which bodes well for fighting the virus on a larger scale should that become necessary.
At the same time, the officials cautioned members of a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee that there are still elements of what they called the novel 2009 H1N1 influenza virus that they don't completely understand.
Judy Trunnell, a 33-year-old Texas woman who died Tuesday is the first known fatality from the swine flu outbreak in the United States, state health authorities reported today.
State health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams told The Associated Press that the schoolteacher, who was pregnant, also had "chronic underlying health conditions" but wouldn't give any more details.
Trunnell died early Tuesday after she'd been hospitalized since April 19, Leonel Lopez, Cameron County epidemiologist, told The Associated Press.
Last week, the state of Texas had listed the woman as critically ill. Trunnell's cousin Mario Zamora told WMAR-TV in Baltimore that Trunnell had died after slipping into a coma. Her baby was delivered by Caesarean section, he said.
"She was just a beautiful person, warm at heart. She worked with disabled children as a teacher," Zamora said. "Those that knew her will always remember her."
Because of Trunnell's long hospitalization, there are currently no concerns that she might have passed the virus to students at the Mercedes Independent School District, where she taught. Still, school district officials announced that they would close its schools, reopening them Monday.
State health officials said it was unclear whether Trunnell had recently traveled to Mexico.
The announcement of the death came on the same day that health officials announced that schools no longer need to shut their doors to curb the spread of swine flu.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teleconference that the CDC guidance on school closures has changed in light of "a more mild version of the disease than what originally appeared" in the United States so far.
Dr. Richard Besser, acting director fo the CDC, said that the guidance was changed in light of the serious disruptions associated with school closures.
"For very severe pandemic, the potential benefits of school closures outweigh the risk," Besser said. "But when we get to situations approaching that of seasonal flu, then the downside of school closures outweigh the potential benefit.
"If we felt that there was a benefit there, then we would be continuing to recommend school closures."