- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2009

Top U.S. health officials said they expect more deaths from the swine flu, which is spreading around the globe, but are optimistic that a vaccine will be developed within a month or two.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that, as of Sunday, 244 cases of swine flu have been found in 34 states. One death in the United States and 30 hospitalizations have been attributed to the new virus.

“It’s a rapidly evolving situation. And it’s still one that is cloaked in uncertainty,” Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But each day we’re getting more information. We’re getting more information about what’s going on in Mexico and we’re getting more information around what’s going on in this country. And we’re starting to see encouraging signs.”

White House officials announced last week that they were working toward crafting a vaccine for the new virus, but said Sunday that it will not be available for another month or two.

“As we’ve said in the past several days, we’re taking active steps together … to begin the process of vaccine development for eventual production,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director for the science and public health program for the CDC. “This is a multipart process, and we can’t promise that it will be produced or available.”

In the meantime, officials said, they recommend that anyone feeling flulike symptoms stay home from work and keep their children home from school if they are sick.

“Our feeling right now is that, in general, canceling public gatherings in the United States doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Schuchat said.

The government has not banned travel to foreign countries but has advised against taking trips to Mexico, where the virus has caused numerous deaths.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said last week that he would advise his family against going anywhere in “confined places,” but White House spokesmen quickly covered for the gaffe, saying that was not the official government recommendation.

When pressed by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on whether Obama administration officials were telling the public one thing and telling their families another, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted they are presenting no different information.

“I think that each member of our country makes decisions about themselves and their family and about safety and security,” Mrs. Sebelius said. “What we’re telling you is what the science says.”

President Obama called for schools and child care facilities with confirmed cases of the flu to close for up to two weeks and, during his weekly radio address Saturday, again asked Americans to take basic flu prevention steps such as washing hands, covering a cough and staying home if sick. He also said the White House has launched pages on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to inform the public.

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