Swine Flu's Reach Spreads

Guest host David Greene talks to Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest on the spread of swine flu.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

President Obama convened a cabinet meeting yesterday to discuss the HIN1 virus; it's better known as swine flu. Mr. Obama says his administration is paying close attention to the outbreak because humans have not built up an immunity to this new strain of virus.

Joining us to talk about the latest in the government's efforts to combat the virus is Dr. Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Good morning, Doctor.

Dr. ANNE SCHUCHAT (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): Good morning.

GREENE: While talking to reporters yesterday, President Obama talked about how the deaths from flu are not that unusual, about 36,000 on average each year. So tell us how concerned the public should be right now.

Dr. SCHUCHAT: You know, seasonal influenza is an important problem, with 36,000 deaths each year and 200,000 hospitalizations. What we're looking at here is a novel influenza virus, different from what we see in the seasonal flu. And what concerns us is, because it's new we don't have general population protection against it. So it could potentially cause more illness than what we see in seasonal flu. And that's why we're really focusing pretty intensively on the response efforts.

GREENE: And as you're focusing, what are the latest figures we've seen coming in on number of cases and how the virus is spreading?

Dr. SCHUCHAT: You know, we're updating our case counts every day, but we're probably focusing a bit less on the case counts than on the patterns that we see. The case count as of 11:00 a.m. yesterday was 141 cases in 19 states. But we expect the numbers to go up and we do expect the number of states that are recognizing this virus to increase. The important thing is that this virus is in many parts of our country and that it's important for people to take commonsense steps to reduce the spread of respiratory illness and to protect themselves and their families.

GREENE: We got some news from across the border that Mexico is now downgrading the number of confirmed deaths related to the virus. Can you tell us about that?

Dr. SCHUCHAT: Well, you know, looking at respiratory infections as a complex issue, many respiratory pathogens exist that can cause illness that look similar to what we're seeing with this novel influenza virus. And it's only through a special laboratory testing that you can confirm the cause. The situation in Mexico is unfolding, and better and better information is being gathered. I think it's too soon to say that things are on the downswing there, but it would be great if they were.

GREENE: And just real briefly, Mexico, even if the numbers are going down, has taken steps like, you know, closing government offices and schools and telling people to stay off the streets. Is there a possibility that U.S. officials might have to take some of those measures if this keeps spreading?

Dr. SCHUCHAT: We're looking very intensively at the situation here in the U.S. to understand what the best interventions will be. We're really trying to strike a balance in our interventions of ones that are likely to have benefit and to reduce the unintended consequence or disruption that the impact - that the interventions will have.

GREENE: Great. We'll have to stop there. Dr. Anne Schuchat is interim deputy director at the CDC. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Dr. SCHUCHAT: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

GREENE: And if you want to see a map of the latest confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S. and across the globe, you can go to our Web site, npr.org.

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