Flu spreads across U.S., officials weigh measures

Mon May 4, 2009 11:23pm BST
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The new H1N1 swine flu virus has infected 286 people in 36 U.S. states and it is likely to spread to every state, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Monday.

Most cases remain mild, but 35 people have been hospitalized, the CDC's acting director, Dr. Richard Besser, told a news conference. A toddler who died in Texas last week remains the only death in the United States so far.

In Mexico, officials say they hope cases there will continue to decline, but it was clear the outbreak of the never-before-seen strain of influenza was spreading elsewhere.

Besser said the virus was so clearly everywhere that the CDC might step down its recommendations to test people so that state and federal health officials could spend their limited time and resources elsewhere.

"We are seeing over 700 probable cases in a total of 44 states," Besser said. So far, 99 percent of probable cases have, upon further testing, turned out to be the new H1N1 strain, Besser said.

"This likely represents an underestimation of the total number of cases across the United States," Besser added, because most people with flu-like symptoms -- fever, aching muscles and cough -- are not even getting tested.

Besser said the CDC was even reconsidering the strategy of closing schools where cases turn up. More than 500 U.S. schools have been closed because of outbreaks.

Schools are closed to protect children, and to keep children from spreading an infection in the community. But this virus is looking to be as mild as seasonal flu, which rarely kills children.  Continued...

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