- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

From combined dispatches

The number of confirmed U.S. cases of swine flu surged by 60 percent Wednesday to 642 from 403, with infections reported in three more states. Forty-one U.S. states are now reporting confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus.

In Mexico, new figures showed that almost half of the 42 confirmed swine flu deaths there were of people 29 and younger.

On Capitol Hill, health officials told lawmakers Wednesday it took only two weeks to identify the genetic characteristics of swine flu, and they are in good position to quickly produce a vaccine if the flu takes a turn for the worse.

At the same time, the officials cautioned members of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that there are still elements of what they called the novel 2009 H1N1 influenza virus that they don’t understand, and it was not time for complacency.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is at the stage of processing vaccine seed virus. If the need arises, they can coordinate with manufacturers on clinical trials, verifying the safety, efficacy and right dosages of the vaccine, and then move to mass production.

The acting director of the CDC said at a hearing Wednesday that older people’s immunity might be one possible explanation for the age median. It might just be that younger people have tended to get sick first in the outbreak, Dr. Richard Besser said.

During the regular winter flu season, elderly people and those with chronic health conditions are the most likely to be sent to a hospital. The death of a 33-year-old American woman Monday in Texas was the second in the United States after a Mexican toddler died last month while visiting Texas.

It was also only the second death outside Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, where authorities on Wednesday upped the death toll from swine flu to 42 from 29, but insisted the worst of the epidemic was over.

“With the number of cases in other countries, I would be surprised if we don’t get to level six” on the World Health Organization’s six-phase pandemic alert scale, Dr. Besser said as Poland and Sweden reported their first confirmed cases and other countries in Europe extended their tally of flu cases.

The daily CDC tally showed that Illinois has surpassed New York in the number of confirmed infections, with the Midwestern state reporting 122 cases of H1N1, 40 more than state officials had confirmed Tuesday.

Dr. Besser had no explanation for the sharp rise in Illinois.

New York’s confirmed cases rose by seven to 97 in the space of 24 hours.

Test kits have been sent to 16 countries, said Dr. Besser, and could lead to a sharp uptick in the number of positive tests for H1N1 from around the world.

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