CDC media briefing: Expect more deaths

On Tuesday’s media update from the CDC, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS and Richard Besser, M.D., Acting Director, CDC took questions from reporters concerning the latest findings by the CDC on swine flu.

Kathleen Sebelius the new Secretary of Health and Human Services toured the CDC labs in Atlanta today.

“It was with great delight for my first time out of Washington, D.C. trip to be to the CDC. Not only observing what the scientists are doing regarding the swine flu but with the day in, day out operations that the CDC is giving the American public.”

At this time there are 44 states with confirmed swine flu cases. Sebelius said that there are likely to be more deaths. She noted that the virus is not as severe as it was once thought to be and that President Obama wanted science to be the guide in this case and that science will continue to be the guide as to how the United States prepares for more cases of the swine flu.

As for school closings new guidance has been introduced. Closings are not being recommended unless a school has so many cases it can not function properly. The new guidance is for children who are ill to remain at home for seven days following the first symptoms. If your child is ill this does not mean to send them to the mall instead of school but to keep them at home to help slow the spread of disease.

As for the severity of the disease it is unlikely to know what to expect until this flu during the normal season.

Sebelius wanted to clarify that at this time there is not a vaccine available. It is hoped that it will be ready for production in the fall. At this stage the vaccine process is in the testing phase. Right now there is an accelerated production of seasonal flu vaccines ongoing. If the need arises then at that point the production of the vaccine, that should be ready will be started.

“Our goal is to move forward. There is not a vaccine, research is underway. Science is leading this process right now.”Around 25 per cent of the Tamiflu stockpile has been sent to the state level. The government is expecting it to be used as many more cases are now coming forward.

Questions as to why the government has been slow in getting people into the key positions for this outbreak were asked. The question has to do with the Senate confirmation process. There are 20 of these key positions that require a confirmation by the Senate in order to be filled.

“There are very dynamic discussions going on with world health groups, WHO, Homeland Security, the CDC and other organizations everyday. These talks are taking place as to what the right protocol, the use of Tamiflu, staging and preparing should be. We want to be sure that everyone is on the same page.”

China has quarantined people and that was brought up. The answer given was that it may gain countries not yet hit a few more weeks of preparation time. Those countries need the extra time to be prepared.

Sebelius had to leave the conference call early to return to Washington.

Dr. Richard Besser told reporters that there are now 1105 confirmed or probable cases of swine flu in the United States. Over 740 of those are at the probable stage. The median age of infection is 15 years old with the age range at 3 months to 81 years-old. Sixty-two per cent of United States cases are in those under the age of 18. There are 35 cases of severe disease requiring hospitalization.There is evidence that the cases in Mexico City are leveling off. More cases of mild flu are being now reported in Mexico. There is now a lab in Mexico so that testing can go more quickly. While cases are leveling off in Mexico City other areas in Mexico are starting to see new cases. As for more mild cases starting to emerge it is not that mild cases were not always the larger amount of cases but looking at those who were seriously ill was the first priority.

That is not the case in the United States and it is expected that there will be more hospitalizations. It now appears that the swine flu is on the same page as the regular seasonal flu.

“This is not to downplay the severity of the disease. There is no question that seasonal flu is a major burden on a person’s health each year.”

At this point the CDC has recommended that schools not be closed. This is due to further understanding of the disease and weighing benefits on each side of the issue. It is known now that once the virus is in the schools it is also already in the community. Because of this it is even more important for those who are ill not to go to either work or school for seven days from onset to help slow the spread of disease.

When the CDC weighed the benefits using the current guidance it was decided that missing school was more detrimental than closing the schools. These decisions go to the highest level of government.

“It is impossible for us to know how many actual cases that there are in the United States. At this time we are more concerned about the curves than the actual numbers.”

Questions are still being asked why the majority of the cases have occurred in young adults. Some possible reasons are that the cases are a result of Spring Break, younger adults have a lack of protective factors and that the elderly may be protected because of previous exposure to seasonal flu.

While tracking the virus via web site hits has been useful in the past at this time it is not because of the sheer increase of hits to sites like the CDC. The CDC is registering 8 million hits a day.

What can the general public do to protect themselves from swine flu?

“We want to channel people into action. Just as families need to have disaster kits ready during hurricane season this is the time for families to make a flu plan so that they know what to do if the virus hits.

Hand washing is the number one way at this time to slow the spread of disease. Covering coughs is number two. Staying home when you are ill is the third most important key to helping slow the spread of the virus.”

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