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Swine Flu: U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency

CDC Has Reports of at Least 20 People in the U.S. Sickened by Swine Flu
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"I do fear that we will have deaths here," Schuchat said today at a news conference.

Countries around the world are watching for the virus, and scientists are scrambling to learn more about the virus and stop it before it becomes a pandemic.

Fukuda says the global health community is taking the swine flu threat "very seriously" but wants more information before deciding whether to raise the WHO's pandemic alert level from phase 3 to phase 4. 

An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza type A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population, begins to cause serious illness, and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide, according to background information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The WHO has a scale ranging from phase 1 (low risk of a flu pandemic) to phase 6 (a full-blown pandemic is under way). 

 

Swine Flu Symptoms

Symptoms of swine flu seen in U.S. patients so far have been "relatively nonspecific -- high fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, possibly vomiting and diarrhea in some numbers," says Schuchat.

The problem is, those symptoms aren't unique to swine flu.

They "can be caused by so many different things," Schuchat says, which makes it "impossible" for a patient to tell if they have swine flu, as opposed to another flu virus or a different illness.

"This is a dilemma, a challenge, we're wrestling with," says Schuchat. She encourages patients to use their judgment about whether they're sick enough to see a doctor, and to definitely do so if they've recently been to a high-risk area, such as Mexico. 

Schuchat also notes that there have been cases of the virus spreading from person to person in the U.S. The two confirmed cases in Kansas are a husband and wife, one of whom traveled to Mexico. Two days after returning home, the spouse became ill, says Schuchat.

WebMD Senior Writer Daniel J. DeNoon contributed to this report.

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