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Published:April 30th, 2009 09:32 EST
Swine Flu Now Confirmed in 10 U.S. States:First Death Is Reported; Alert Lifted To Phase 5

Swine Flu Now Confirmed in 10 U.S. States:First Death Is Reported; Alert Lifted To Phase 5

By Christopher HIllenbrand

U.S. officials revealed the latest numbers on the pernicious virus` spread on Wednesday, including confirmed cases now present in 10 states across the continental United States, and grieved over a Mexican child`s death: the first fatality in the U.S. from swine flu. The number of verified diagnoses in the states has swelled to about 100, with the federal government now deliberating shuting down public schools to offset the disease`s aggression.

The new findings have provoked the World Health Organization to gauge the swine flu outbreak as nearing the level of a fully-developed pandemic.

Dr. Keiji Fukada, a flu epidemiologist coordinating the World Health Organization`s influenza program, spoke before reporters in Geneva about the breaking news indicating that the swine flu is becoming a large-scale pandemic, and that the organization decided to lift the health alert to Phase 5: which is characterized by a wider sweeping pathogen through entire groups of people. As a sidenote, Phase 6, which is the highest echelon for alert, means a fully-realized pandemic.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conferred with Senate lawmakers concerning the U.S.`s stance on whether or not the country should shut off its border with Mexico, where the source of the incipient virus is ostensibly believed to have started which has now claimed up to 150 people. Napolitano echoed the president`s statement that screening people at the border and other ingresses into the country is acceptable and reflected the WHO`s opinion that isolating our borders from Mexico has no basis in effectively stopping the flu`s progression.

Dr. Richard Besser, the acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that there are now 91 confirmed cases spanning 10 states thoughout the United States. There have been 51 now confirmed in New York, 16 in Texas, and 14 in California, where the cases were first reported in the initial onfall of the illness. While Kansas had already declared one incident, they`ve recently notched one more on the count by Wednesday. Ohio and Indiana saw the outbreak stagnant at one verified case in each state. The latest entries on the list include Massachusetts, Michigan, that each account for 2 cases, and Arizona and Nevada, that confirmed one case of the H1N1 virus.

According to the commandant of the Marine Corps, a Marine based out of southern California near the Mexican border is displaying flu-like symptoms and 39 Marines who have come in contact with the next potential victim are now sequestered at their base until their test results confirm or deny the presence of the infection.

Marine General James Conway stood before a joint meeting at the Pentagon and expressed that the Marine`s preliminary test results show readings that might be linked to swine flu but the Marine isn`t in critical condition at this point.

On the growing concerns of a full-blown pandemic, President Barack Obama said: "This is obviously a serious situation (and) we are closely and continuously monitoring (the disease`s spread)."

President Barack Obama addressed news sources and empathized with the family of the Mexican child who died in Houston, saying they were in "(his) thoughts and prayers." The young boy, who about to turn 2 years old, was the first U.S. death from swine flu in a group of victims now approaching 100 strong. The boy and his family were from Mexico on a trip to visit relatives in Brownsville, Texas, when he fell ill and was rushed to a hospital in Houston where he died on Monday night, health spokespeople in Texas said.

Top Republican Minor Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, repeated the urgency of the President`s address.

"This is a very worrisome situation and we`re all following it very closely," McConnell said. "We stand ready to closely work with the administration to protect the American people as this situation unfolds."

On the same day, government officials in Egypt dictated that all pigs in the country should be slaughtered as a deterence, although eating pork doesn`t cause disease transmission and also that the nation hasn`t reported any cases yet. The act has caused outrage amongst Egyptian pig farmers, who are expecting substantial profit losses because of the public`s opinion stating that pork is now contaminated even as Egypt has allowed the farmers to sell all the meat from the slain pigs.

Due to this widely-held misconception, health authorities have intentionally referred to the virus as its scientific term "H1N1 virus", with President Obama even calling the speading illness as such.

At a briefing with the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Rear Adm. Anne Schuchat, the CDC`s interim science and public health deputy direct, said: "The disease is not a food-borne illness." But she also debriefed on how puzzling the newfound sickness is since "it`s a virus that hasn`t been around before. The general population doesn`t have immunity from it."

She said that the disease may prove to be more of a concern to younger demographics because they`ve never encountered a similar strain to the H1N1 virus previously. Like outbreaks in the past that seemed to kill young adults aged 20-40 without preexistent immunity defenses, the elderly may be less susceptible to more serious cases of the new influenza as they have lived through and acquired specific antibodies to viruses from the past that might genetically resemble H1N1.

Germany joined the ranks of countries stricken by the virus on Wednesday, reporting four confirmed cases.

Likewise, other countries around the world also with substantiated cases of H1N1 influenza proclaimed greater incidents of the virus.

New Zealand now leads all countries outside the U.S. and Mexico with confirmed findings with 14 by its final assessment on Wednesday. Britain announced that five more cases have been verified in the country, as well as 13 total being diagnosed in Canada. Spain proclaimed it is experiencing four confirmed reportings, while Israel cites two total confirmed. Austria confirms one person as having the virus.

President Obama announced that he would leave the decision to close schools with suspected or confirmed swine flu cases up to health authorities.

"(Health officials) should strongly consider temporarily closing so that we can be as safe a possible," Obama stated. "If the situation becomes more serious and we have to take more extensive steps, then parents should also think about contingencies if schools in their areas do temporarily shut down, figuring out and planning what their child care situation would be."

The government under the Obama administration "is prepared to do whatever is necessary to control the impact of this virus", according to the president. Only days earlier, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion in emergency aid to provide enough quality vaccines for the population in the near future.

In his online address resembling one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt`s fireside chats back in the late 30`s and early 40`s, President Obama told citizens to be informed about the virus, but don`t panic over an illness that may be prevented by taking simple precautions like washing your hands frequently, taking a sick day if you feel ill and calling off your children from school if they show flu-like symptoms.

His announcement came on the heels of the CDC`s recommendation to cities and states, most notably New York City, for certain schools to be cancelled, some of which were subsequently closed by state officials.

The CDC sided with Obama in the decision to ask people feeling symptoms even remotely resembling the flu to stay home from work, and now even say relatives living in close proximity to sick family members should strongly consider staying indoors until they are cleared of carrying the pathogen.

The CDC deems the governmental directive as "an abundance of caution", but affirmed that these actions aren`t mandatory.