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U.S. swine flu cases on rise

April 28, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Swine flu cases in the United States rose above 60 on Tuesday as governments around the world intensified steps to battle the outbreak that has killed scores of people in Mexico. President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion to fight the fast-spreading disease.

Federal officials suggested the flu may be spreading so fast, there may be no practical way to contain it, and no need to tighten borders further.

So far, there have been no deaths from the fast-spreading virus in the United States.

Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said Tuesday that the number of confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S. has jumped to 64 and states said there are at least four more. A CDC official told a Senate panel that includes five hospitalizations, up from one hospitalization the day before.

"Based on the pattern of illness we're seeing, we don't think this virus can be contained... But we do think we can reduce the impact of its spread, and reduce its impact on health," Rear. Adm. Anne Schuchat, the CDC interim science and public health deputy director, told a Senate Appropriations health subcommittee.

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"There's a lot of anxiety right now across the country," said subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

"It's important for people to know there's a lot that we can do," Schuchat told Harkin. "The investments that have been made in preparedness are making a difference."

Still, she warned, not only might the disease get worse, "it might get much worse."

"We don't have all the answers today," she added.

Obama sent a letter to lawmakers asking them for an emergency spending plan to build drug stockpiles and monitor future cases. He said the money will also help international efforts to battle the flu.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, who read the letter to reporters, said the flu outbreak requires "prudent planning" and not panic.

Before Obama called for a supplement spending bill, Harkin said he would push to add an additional $870 million to an upcoming spending bill to fight the flu cases rapidly spreading around the country. On the House side, Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey said he'll put additional flu-fighting funds into a bill covering the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he didn't specify how much.

Money to stop the spread of such a flu was stripped from a wide-ranging stimulus bill earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano predicted that the new strain of flu, for which there is currently no preventive vaccine, will spread to additional states in the days ahead.

So far, the cases are still in the five states where they previously were reported, with the vast majority, 45 of them in New York City, 10 in California, six in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Ohio.

Federal authorities have begun moving stockpiles of antiviral drugs into the affected areas.

U.S. scientists hope to have a key ingredient for a swine flu vaccine ready in early May, but are finding that the novel virus grows slowly in eggs -- the chief way flu vaccines are made. Even if all goes well, it still will take a few months before any shots are available for the first required safety testing, in volunteers.

"We're working together at 100 miles an hour to get material that will be useful," Dr. Jesse Goodman, who oversees the Food and Drug Administration's swine flu work, told The Associated Press.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said a vaccine is being developed "very rapidly" and could be ready in time for the next flu season.

No flu-related deaths have been reported in the U.S., while neighboring Mexico has experienced more than 150 deaths considered likely to be caused by the flu.

Meanwhile, the State Department has set up a unit to monitor developments related to overseas outbreaks to "try to sort out fact from fiction and support the interagency process that's being led by the Department of Homeland Security," spokesman Robert Wood said Tuesday.

The department, which on Monday joined the Centers for Disease Control in warning Americans against nonessential travel to Mexico, has closed its embassy in Mexico City and all nine consulates in the country to the public until May 6 in accordance with Mexican regulations aimed at stopping the spread of the flu, he said.

Napolitano, interviewed on NBC, said officials "anticipate confirmed cases in more states." She reiterated President Barack Obama's statement on Monday as he grappled with the first domestic emergency of his presidency -- that the spread of the disease is a cause for concern but not alarm.

She offered no estimate of how widely the flu might spread, nor how many cases might eventually occur.

In addition to the cases identified by the CVC, health officials in Michigan said they have one suspected case, and five are suspected in New Jersey.

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