By Ken Davison
Today the United States declared that the emerging swine flu virus is a public health emergency.
The first cases in the nation were reported at the end of last week in Texas but four other states have since reported swine flu cases. As of Sunday, 20 cases have been reported but this caseload is expected to increase.
This weekend, eight New York City high school students were found to have contracted the swine flu. It was reported that some students from the high school recently visited Mexico, where the virus is believed to have originated. St. Francis high school is the largest private Catholic high school in the country and has canceled classes for Monday and Tuesday. Public schools will be open tomorrow.
The New York City health department has recommended that doctors test patients for the swine flu if they have flu symptoms and have recently traveled to Mexico, Texas or California. A 9-year-old Ohio boy who was recently in Mexico has contracted the swine flu virus and Kansas married couple whose husband recently visited Mexico also have the virus. At least nine swine flu cases have so far been reported in California and Texas.
In Mexico, 87 deaths are said to have come from the swine flu virus.
Officials in Canada announced today the discovery of six persons with the swine flu virus, becoming the third country to report the virus. The World Health Organization called the emerging swine flu virus a "public health emergency of international concern."
Swine flu, a strain of the H1N1 virus, is a respiratory disease of pigs and can be contracted by humans who are around pigs. The virus can also be spread from person to person. Symptoms include: high fever, body aches, coughing, sore throat and breathing difficulties.
The virus is not yet considered a global pandemic as it is not known how easily the virus spreads. Washing hands frequently is recommended as a preventive measure.
According to the acting chief for the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Richard Besser, "As we continue to look for cases, we are going to see a broader spectrum of disease. We're going to see more severe disease in this country."
Doses of Tamiflu, previously stockpiled by the federal government to combat a possible outbreak of avian flu, are being shipped to states. Tamiflu has so far been found to be effective against the new swine flu.
U.S. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano urged people to think of today's public health emergency announcement as a declaration of emergency preparedness. "We're preparing in an environment where we really don't know ultimately what the size of seriousness of this outbreak is going to be."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the outbreak was serious but that the public not panic. According to Gibbs, President Obama is getting updates every few hours on the swine flu situation.
As a friend who had just returned from Mexico said to me today: "This is not a drill."
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