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Published:April 29th, 2009 08:41 EST
U.S. Believes Swine Flu Will Claim American Lives

U.S. Believes Swine Flu Will Claim American Lives

By Christopher HIllenbrand

The swine flu onset in the United States became more dire on Tuesday when U.S. officials reported that hundreds of students at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, now suffer from symptoms consistent of swine flu. The Health Department believes that the disease outbreak may turn fatal in the country.

Earlier on Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the total number of U.S.`s confirmed swine flu cases climbed to 68, with 4 being confirmed in the last several hours. Breaking down the cases state by state, New York has 45 confirmed cases with 13 cases in California, six in Texas, two in Kansas, and Ohio still only reports one substantiated case of the illness; Indiana is the only new state to be included by Tuesday with one case.

Richard Besser, the acting director for the CDC, said: "I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection."

Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Department Secretary, reiterated the threat to the U.S. population.

She said: "It is very likely that we will see more serious presentations of illness and some deaths as we go through this flu cycle."

Before Congress on Tuesday, President Barack Obama requested $1.5 billion in emergency assistance to be released for preventative and treatment measures.

New York City is expected to see greater numbers of reported cases as the city`s epicenter for the disease, the St. Francis Preparatory School, is experiencing an outbreak of the flu. St. Francis, the largest Roman Catholic high school in the country with a student body of 2,700, saw "many hundreds of students (that) were ill with symptoms that are most likely swine flu", according to the city`s Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, though the cases haven`t been verified as of yet.

Frieden said: "It is here and it is spreading."

The school`s principal, Brother Leonard Conway said that twelve teachers felt flu-related symptoms too.

In a local school for children with special needs, administrators cancelled all classes after over 80 students called in sick with similar symptoms.

Since many of the students at the New York school who have contracted the strain didn`t go to Mexico, experts firmly believe that the virus` strain is adept at transmitting from person to person even when the bug didn`t originate in the afflicted nation. And the information from U.S. states citing how the disease has spread wildly in their cities, in concert with data coming from around the world, only supports the argument for the sickness` potential to become a full-blown pandemic.

Keiji Fukada, assistant director-general for the World Health Organization, said: "There is definitely the possibility that this virus can establish that kind of community wide outbreak capacity in multiple countries, and it`s something we`re looking for very closely."

Fukada mentioned that these "community" transmissions are crucial in assessing the virus` ability to progress at pandemic levels, but affirmed that the United States` position on not panicking over the situation is the right call seeing that no conclusions can be ascertained at this point.

Obama`s official release pressed that the matter hasn`t yet grown to disastrous proportions and that flu outbreaks are common every year at this time of the season. CDC estimates put the annual average for flu-affiliated deaths at about 36,000 people during the 1990`s in the U.S. alone.

In fact, news of the late-breaking flu incidents didn`t shock the CDC, which had predicted that the numbers of influenza patients would increase and the rate of more serious conditions would also rise.

Bioscientists plan to have a vital component necessary for a counteracting vaccine by early May, though precautionary testing of the vaccine`s efficacy may take up to a few months. After obtaining samples of the virus from U.S. and Mexican victims, scientists are in the process of creating a weakened version of the strain that could develop anitbodies to fight the illness without sickening the patient. CDC officials claim they are "about a third of the way" in the drug`s development.

The same day, Cuba levied a 48-hour nationwide travel ban to and from Mexico: the first country to fully restrict nearly all travel to the location of the strain`s origin. The government has made special exceptions to the temporary enforcement.

Havana`s mayor issued compulsory closings of gyms, swimming pools and limited patronage at area restaurants to takeout exclusively.

By Tuesday, New Zealand and Israel became the most recent countries to report confirmed cases of the new flu strain alongside Mexico, the United States, Canada, Britain, and France.

The death count presumed to be caused by swine flu in Mexico has risen to as many as 150 people and predicted to steadily rise, according Mexico`s Health Department.

The U.S. allocated more manpower toward border patrols in states neighboring Mexico and advised Americans to limit travel to Mexico by only the most exigent circumstances. Canada, France and Israel followed suit in mandating travel warnings to countries at high alert for the infection.

Health officials debate the call to action from many governments in restricting travel and bolstering border awareness efforts. Such measures, as health experts suggest, haven`t proved to be practical in the past, given that the SARS epidemic back in 2003 claimed 774 people, mainly in China and Taiwan, even after similar actions were put in place.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl asserted that "border controls do not work. Travel restrictions do not work."

Not only the human factor is suffering from the latest biological threat though. Once the travel ban was issued against Mexico throughout many countries, Mexico City is seeing losses of $57 million to its economy as tourism has been crippled in addition to the government costs in closing public schools, sports arenas, and other public institutions.

The term, "swine flu", in of itself, is creating a controversial buzz over the public`s consensus in avoiding consuming pork and products made with pork for fear of catching the new flu. The H1N1 Type A strain of influenza combines genetic matter from avian, swine, and human sources, leading many to question the implications the title may have in the future.

Since Mexico reported the immensity of the flu, countries like Russia, China, and Ukraine, have issued temporary embargos on imported pork from certain regions in the U.S. and Mexico.

Presently, the pork industry is feeling the panic`s crunch on its profits especially smaller farms easily affected by changes in the market.

Francis Gilmore, owner of a 600-hog farm in Perry, Iowa, had doubts his low-key business will survive this problem.

He said: "It`s killing our markets. Where they got the name, I just don`t know."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg requested emergency assistance from the CDC in probing the suspected cases at the Queens` high school where cases first emerged in the city.

The Health Department mailed out surveys to families of the students attending St. Francis, asking students of their personal observations over how the virus was spreading. Close to 1,500 of them responded to the surveys.

One infected student in particular, 16-year-old Rachel Mele, suffered from a fever of at least 100 degrees for five days before it finally broke on Tuesday. Her family stayed by her side as she battled the sickness, and feared for the worst until she began recuperating this week.

Thursday night, Mele was driven to the hospital experiencing breathing problems.

She said: "I could barely even catch my breath. I`ve never felt a pain like that before. My throat, it was burning, like, it was the worst burning sensation I ever got before. I couldn`t even swallow. I couldn`t even let up air. I could barely breathe through my mouth."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the aim of facilitating health authorities with corraling the new crisis. Like President Obama however, he asserted that the disease`s spread in the state should be no cause for alarm.