Third US swine flu death confirmed: officials

SEATTLE, Washington, May 10, 2009 (AFP) - The third US fatality from swine flu has been confirmed in northwestern state of Washington as officials pointed out that the spreading disease posed a serious problem.

State health officials said in a statement a man in his 30s with an underlying heart condition died last week with what appeared to be complications from the A(H1N1) influenza virus.

"This death is tragic. Our thoughts are with all those affected by this man’s passing," Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said.

"It's a sobering reminder that influenza is serious, and can be fatal. I know our public health agencies are doing everything they can to track and monitor this outbreak and to protect the people of our state."

Quarantine officers move into a newly arrived jet from Mexico to check passengers at Tokyo's Narita International Airport, Japan, on May 9, 2009 (AFP photo)

No further detail about the man's identity were released. It is the first death from swine flu reported outside the border state of Texas.

Local media reports said the man died on May 6 after showing flu symptoms on April 30. He had been diagnosed with viral pneumonia at the time of his death but was now confirmed to have been suffering from swine flu, which was considered to have been a factor in the death.

"We're working with local and federal partners to track this outbreak," said Washington Secretary of Health Mary Selecky.

"While most illnesses from this new flu strain have been fairly mild, we must remember that influenza claims about 36,000 lives every year nationwide.

"That's why we urge people to take this outbreak, and the seasonal flu we see every year, very seriously."

Washington state currently has a total of 101 confirmed cases of swine flu.

Earlier Saturday, US health officials put the number of confirmed US cases of swine flu at 2,254, with 104 people hospitalized.

The cases were confirmed in 44 of the nation's 50 states and the capital Washington but health authorities were now focusing on the characteristics of the new virus and on developing a vaccine, said Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On Friday, there had been 1,639 confirmed A(H1N1) influenza cases in the United States.

Most of the hospitalized patients, Schuchat said, also had other health problems. US health officials have said they expect to find confirmed cases in all 50 states.

Mexico is at the epicenter of the global A(H1N1) epidemic, with 48 deaths recorded there compared to two US deaths, but the United States has overtaken its southern neighbor to become the country with the most number of patients.

"I know that in every state, it's really easy to focus on the numbers, but I think right now, the numbers don't tell us as much as the trends," said Schuchat, CDC's interim deputy director for science and public health.

"Our assessment is that transmission here in the US is ongoing, that this is a very transmissible virus, similar to the seasonal influenza viruses."

Despite almost 3,000 probable and confirmed cases now in the United States, Schuchat told reporters that "fortunately, the severity of illness that we are seeing at this point doesn't look as terrible as a category five kind of pandemic or the severity of impact that some had feared."

Noting that the "influenza virus is unpredictable, it can change over time," she said that health officials should focus on how the virus is spreading, developments in the southern hemisphere, which is just starting its flu season, and anticipating the virus's impact during the northern hemisphere's fall.

US President Barack Obama warned Friday that the autumn and winter flu season later in the year could be "even worse" and see cases spike again.

"So a lot of our emphasis here in the US is still understanding the epidemiology, transmission, severity and viral characteristics, but also working with partners internationally to really prepare and evaluate issues in their countries," said Schuchat.

The potentially deadly virus is a hybrid drawn from strains found in pigs, birds and humans.

Scientists fear that a mutation of the bird flu virus resulting in a strain easily transmitted among humans could create a pandemic, potentially affecting up to one fifth of the world's population.

The swine flu outbreak has now been reported in 29 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Source: AFP

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