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Swine Flu in Japan May Trigger Pandemic

In U.S., 8 New York City Schools Closed as H1N1 Swine Flu Spreads Across Nation
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"The way this virus is spreading in the U.S., we are not out of the woods and disease is continuing," Schuchat said.

More than 200 Americans have been hospitalized. Most of those hospitalized have been young people between that ages of 5 and 24, and very few have been over 65. The reason for this is not clear.

That's the same disease pattern seen worldwide. In a speech today to the World Health Organization's annual meeting of health ministers, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, said that while the WHO has not yet declared a pandemic, H1N1 swine flu is expected to spread rapidly to new countries.

"The virus has given us a grace period, but we do not know how long this grace period will last. No one can say whether this is the calm before the storm," Chan said.

Chan gave voice to health experts' greatest fear: that the H1N1 swine flu might recombine with the H5N1 bird flu. Such a recombination might make the mild H1N1 more deadly -- or might give the H5N1 bird flu virus the ability to spread easily from person to person.

"We must never forget the H5N1 avian influenza virus is now firmly entrenched in poultry in several countries," Chan said. "No one can say how this avian virus will behave when pressured by large numbers of people infected with the new H1N1 virus."

Travel Restrictions to Mexico Eased

None of these dire possibilities has yet come to pass. The good news is that in Mexico, the first country to be affected by H1N1 swine flu, the epidemic seems to be waning.

"The overall trend seems downward in Mexico," Schuchat said. "We have downgraded our travel advice. Earlier, we recommended that people defer nonessential travel; now we offer a precaution to those at risk of complications of flu due to pregnancy, underlying conditions, or old age. But we do think it is fine for most people to travel to Mexico at this point."

With cases still on the rise in the U.S., it's too soon to know whether H1N1 swine flu will continue to spread throughout the summer or whether it will go away -- at least until the fall flu season.

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