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Despite 2nd U.S. Death, CDC Says Don't Close Schools for Swine Flu

Swine Flu Milder Than Feared, but More Deaths Expected
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 5, 2009 -- The U.S. recorded its second U.S. swine-flu death and the first of an American -- a Texas woman living near the Mexico border -- soon after the CDC said schools shouldn't close when students come down with H1N1 swine flu -- and schools closed because of swine flu may reopen.

The CDC has repeatedly predicted that the U.S. would see more H1N1 swine flu deaths and hospitalization. Yet the CDC's official guidance for schools reflects a cautious easing of concern over the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

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Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

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Why the lower level of concern?

•         Initial alarm over swine flu deaths among healthy young people in Mexico has waned as investigation has turned up large numbers of relatively mild flu cases in Mexico.

•         The H1N1 swine flu has been relatively mild in the U.S. -- about as severe as seasonal flu.

•         Virus experts find that the current H1N1 swine flu lacks the virulence factors linked to severe illness in previous flu pandemics.

The Texas woman, from Cameron County in the extreme southern tip of the state, was in her 30s, Doug McBride, press officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services, tells WebMD. She had underlying health conditions that put her at high risk of flu complications.

ABC News reports that the woman lived in Harlingen, Texas, near the Mexico border. ABC reported the severely overweight woman, a schoolteacher, had recently given birth and had recently had pneumonia.

 

Schools Allowed to Reopen

The school-guidance announcement came earlier in the day from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose first official trip outside Washington D.C. was made to the CDC's Atlanta headquarters.

"The new guidance will recommend schools cease closing with recognized cases if H1N1 flu," Sebelius said at a news conference. "We hope this will alleviate some of the burdens on parents and workers. But keeping children safe and sound took the top priority until we knew more about this disease."

The change means more responsibility for parents, who now are asked to check their kids for signs of illness before sending them off to school. If their kids seem ill, parents are asked to keep them home for seven days -- even if they feel better in the meantime.

"And parents, don't turn around and send that child to the mall. This is about keeping children home until the virus can't be spread any further," Sebelius said.

Teachers, too will have more responsibility. They're asked to be on the lookout for kids with signs of illness and to send home any child who shows signs of the flu.

Ironically, the continued spread of H1N1 flu is one reason behind the softer CDC advice. If school outbreaks were the nexus of flu spread in the community, it might make sense to close them. But Richard Besser, MD, acting CDC director, said that school-related cases simply reflect H1N1 flu cases already in the community.

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