US gearing up for future flu threats: Obama

May 2nd, 2009 - 9:48 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Washington, May 2 (DPA) While research has already started on developing a vaccine, there was some indication Friday that the swine flu virus might not be as deadly as once thought.
“It may turn out that H1N1 runs its course like ordinary flus,” US President Barack Obama said at a cabinet meeting, but cautioned that the nation needed to be prepared for the long term.

“We know that these kinds of threats can emerge at any moment. Even if it turns out that the H1N1 is relatively mild on the front end, it could come back in a more virulent form during the actual flu season, and that’s why we are investing in our public health

infrastructure,” Obama said.

The number of confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States climbed to 141 on Friday, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

The total was up from 109 on Thursday, with cases spread across 19 states. New York reported 50 cases, Texas 28, South Carolina 16 and California 13.

There was one fatality reported in Texas, a 23-month-old Mexican toddler who died Wednesday in the Houston’s children’s hospital.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday that 430 public and non-public schools were closed because of the flu outbreak. “Just to put that in a little bit of context, we have almost 100,000 schools in our country, so this is less than half of 1 percent of our schools that have been impacted.”

In New York, the Saint Francis school that has been closed since Monday and had the highest cluster of A(H1N1) influenza cases in the US is expected to reopen next week following thorough cleaning.

Most of the students who fell ill had travelled to Mexico in March during their spring break.

Meanwhile, a United Airlines flight bound for Washington was diverted to Boston Friday after a passenger reported flu-like symptoms, the airline confirmed.

Flight 903 carrying 245 passengers and 14 crew that had departed from Munich landed at Boston’s Logan Airport, where paramedics were waiting, United said in a statement.

After the passenger reported symptoms, the airline contacted the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention “out of an abundance of caution” and was advised to land in Boston, United said.

In Mexico, the epicentre of the epidemic, Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos said Friday that the new variant of influenza, which has so far killed 15 people in Mexico and one in the United States, is less lethal than bird flu and SARS that have killed more than 1,000 people in Asia since 2003.

“Fortunately the virus is not so aggressive,” Cordova Villalobos said. “It is not as lethal as the case of bird flu, where mortality is around 70 percent.”

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