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Mexico Swine Flu Epidemic Worries World

Swine Flu Deaths in Healthy Young People Raise Fears of Pandemic
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The World Health Organization is convening an expert panel to determine whether to raise its pandemic flu alert level. Because of bird flu, we're at level 3. If the panel finds evidence of "increased human-to-human transmission" it goes to level 4. If there's evidence of "significant human-to-human transmission," it goes to level 5.

A pandemic will be declared only if there is "efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission" of a new flu virus. That clearly has not happened yet.

"Whether or not this [swine flu] strain causes a widespread pandemic will depend on its transmissibility among humans. That has not yet been fully elucidated, but should be shortly," Pascal James Imperato, MD, MPH, professor and dean of public health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, N.Y., tells WebMD.

Should there be a pandemic -- something that is far from certain -- the CDC has already begun work on a vaccine. Would it be ready by next flu season?

"It would be an Olympic sprint -- a mammoth feat -- to produce a flu vaccine by October," Schaffner says.

What You Should Do Now

Infectious disease experts agree with the CDC that now is a good time to think about what you'd do if there were a widespread flu outbreak.

Here's what you can do right now: Wash your hands often and well.

The CDC has not yet warned travelers to avoid the San Diego or San Antonio areas, and it is not restricting travel to or from Mexico. However, travelers to or from those areas should be sure to use all normal precautions to avoid catching or spreading a cold or flu.

People who live in or visit those areas and who get flu-like symptoms should see a doctor to get tested for the swine flu virus.

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