Health Officials Warn Americans to Remain on Guard Against Swine Flu
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Federal health officials yesterday urged Americans not to let down their guard against the swine flu, saying that while the virus appears to be causing milder illness than originally feared, it is still spreading and could pose a significant health threat to some people.
"While we've seen a lot of encouraging news in terms of severity, we continue to see hundreds and hundreds of new cases each day," said Richard E. Besser, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding he was concerned that the public might believe incorrectly that "this is over."
Besser's sentiments were echoed by President Obama, who during an event at the White House urged the nation to remain on guard.
"We're seeing that the virus may not have been as virulent as we at first feared, but we're not out of the woods yet," Obama said. "We still have to take precautions."
The comments came as the number of confirmed U.S. cases rose to 1,639 in 42 states and the District, up 743 cases from a day earlier.
The increase was mainly due to more testing, but Besser said it is clear that people are still getting infected. At least 57 Americans have been hospitalized, including 26 who also had some other health condition. Besser noted that seven of those people had asthma, a very common condition.
Meanwhile, schools that had closed to guard against the spread of the virus were resuming classes. U.S. Department of Education officials said more than 81,000 students across the country returned to class yesterday as 155 schools reopened. At least 166 schools remained closed, but federal officials said they expect that all those students will be back in class by Tuesday.
Public concern about the outbreak remains high but appears to be falling, a survey by the Harvard School of Public Health found.
The proportion of Americans who say they are not concerned that they or someone in their immediate family might get sick from the flu increased from 53 percent last week to 61 percent this week, according to the nationally representative survey of 1,013 adults.
At the same time, however, 77 percent say they are still closely following news about the virus -- about the same as a week earlier.
Nearly half of parents of children under age 18 enrolled in school worry that they or a family member will get sick from the flu in the next 12 months, compared with 38 percent of those who do not have school-age children, the survey found. Half of parents report that their schools have not given them information about what they are doing to reduce the threat of infection on campuses.
Overall, a large proportion of survey respondents -- 83 percent -- said they are satisfied with the performance of public health officials during the outbreak, and 88 percent said they are satisfied with the information officials have been providing.
Staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.