U.S. Swine Flu No Worse Than Seasonal Flu, Experts Say

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
April 29, 2009

In Washington, D.C., a record number of patients inundated area hospitals this week worried they had swine flu, the disease outbreak that first jumped from pigs to people in Mexico.

On the social-networking site Twitter, "swine flu" was mentioned once a second on April 27, according to a report by the media analysis group Nielsen Online.

And blog chatter on the respiratory disease—which has expanded to eight countries—has already surpassed by ten to one the number of discussions about the salmonella in peanut butter scare from earlier this year.

Of course, the U.S. swine flu outbreak is nothing to sneeze at: As of April 29, 91 people in the country had confirmed cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The first U.S. death occurred on April 27, when a two-year-old child succumbed to swine flu after travelling from Mexico to Houston for treatment.

About 36,000 people in the U.S. die annually from seasonal influenza, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized, according to the CDC. (Read swine flu facts and myths.)

But in the U.S., where most swine flu cases are mild, "it's a situation where we should be cautious but not panicky," said Susan Rehm, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

"From what we understand so far, the severity doesn't seem to be much different than what it is in regular seasonal influenza," Rehm said.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, added that "we're in a phase of hopeful waiting."

"The lesson of prior disasters in the U.S. and emergencies—[though] it's not a disaster yet—[is to] get on top of this very quickly."

Not a Pandemic

In pigs, swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza. Though cases of pigs infecting humans are rare, human-to-human transmission can subsequently occur.

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