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Published:April 22nd, 2009 12:41 EST
New Flu Strain Alarms Health Authorities To Possibility of Pandemic

New Flu Strain Alarms Health Authorities To Possibility of Pandemic

By Christopher HIllenbrand

According to officials for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, two children in California were diagnosed with a new form of the swine flu last week. And though the two children were quickly treated and both have recovered, officials are on the lookout for any more cases to arise.

The strain in question belongs to the subtype of the influenza virus known as H1N1, the same subtype responsible for the seasonal infection currently affecting some in the country. But as representatives for the C.D.C. and Prevention briefed, the new strain found in California genetically resembles a type of the virus discovered in pigs and not those infecting humans.

Health officials believe it isn`t beyond the realm of possibility that the children contracted the disease from other people and not by pigs as the strain may indicate. They said that they conferred with authorities in Canada, Mexico, and those at the World Health Organization. There have not been any more cases reported in the United States.

The C.D.C. requested doctors in the San Diego metro area, including the Imperial counties that border on Mexico, to take samples from any patients displaying flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Lyn Finelli of the C.D.C. spoke to reporters over the phone about the two cases citing "both of these kids came to our attention because they were seen in clinics which do routine surveillance for influenza infections."

The doctor assured media spokespeople that both children, a 10-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, did not suffer from particularly serious symptoms even though the girl experienced a fever reaching 104 degrees while she was still being treated.

Finelli said: "We are not making the assumption that there are widespread infections out there and there is not any action that the public should take right now."

The C.D.C. claimed to have never seen anything like it before.

In the last two years, 12 verified cases of infection due to a strain of the swine flu had been reported to the C.D.C., but 11 of whom were individuals that had come in contact with pigs.

The C.D.C. concluded in their statement: "Neither child had known contact with pigs. The source of infection is unknown. The lack of known exposure to pigs in the two cases increases the possibility that human-to-human transmission of this new influenza virus had occurred."

Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are investigating the people the children knew and regularly encountered, and blood testing everyone who claimed to have been ill recently.

The symptoms of the virus are normally tempered and the illness is treatable in most circumstances, although deaths attributed to the virus range from 250,000 to 500,000 in any given year. Health officials around the world worry about the chances of another strain emerging that is entirely immune to antibiotic treatment, causing a pandemic much like the 1968-1969 influenza pandemic that claimed close to 34,000 people. Almost a century ago, the world was engrossed in the worst reported influenze pandemic. Known as the "Spanish flu", this influenza strain, which has since mutated, gripped the world from 1918-1919 and killed between 30 to 100 million people worldwide in the years that followed.

Experts on the virus warn that a pandemic might be right around the corner and that global health community is stepping up efforts to effectively monitor the progress of strains known to be in existence. Authorities are scared the H5N1 avian flu virus, only present in certain birds native to Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, may mutate into a deadlier form which could lead to a pandemic.

In its present state, the H5N1 avian flu virus generally doesn`t infect people. And while cases in humans are considered rare, the World Health Organization reported that 257 of the 420 known to have been infected have died from the sickness since 2003.