Confirmed swine flu cases reach 66 in the US

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Wednesday April 29, 2009 (foodconsumer.org) -- While most of the 66 confirmed cases of the swine flu in the United States are considered mild, the first death from the illness has been confirmed. A toddler from Brownsville, TX, died from the illness a day after Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, made the comment, “…as we move forward, I fully expect we will see deaths.”

Most of the confirmed cases of the illness are in New York City; students from the St. Francis Prep School became ill after returning from a spring break trip to Cancun. Other states reporting the illness are Texas, Indiana, Ohio, and California, where Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency.

Mutated Strain

One of the most alarming aspects of the current swine flu is that despite its name, it is a mutation that has morphed from three separate flu strains: human, bird and swine, which means that our immune systems have never before seen anything like this particular virus.

Cytokine Storms

One odd attribute of this current flu strain is that the mortality rate in Mexico has been the highest among able bodied adults, rather than among the immune compromised elderly and the fragile young, two segments of the population that, traditionally, have been the most devastated by previously known flu viruses.

According to reports on CNN and in the New York Times, experts from the CDC have revealed that the reason for this is because of the body’s reaction to the flu itself. The virulent nature of the illness causes the human immune system to “overreact,” releasing too many antibodies to fight off the illness all at once. The result is what scientists call a “cytokine storm,” which is when too many immune cells become activated and are sent to the same place in the body. Normally, a person’s body will control the cytokine loop; in the case of the current swine flu casualties, such a reigning in did not take place. Thus, in a cruel irony, those with the healthiest immune systems are those who were stricken the hardest, and the fastest.

The good news is that despite the enigmatic nature of this current illness, preventative measures are basically the same for both the swine flu and the traditional, seasonal flu. Make sure you wash your hands frequently, and avoid putting your hands around your eyes, nose and mouth. WebMD advises that we disinfect all surfaces in our homes, including telephones, computer keyboards, and even the steering wheels in our vehicles, once a week.

(By Rachel Stockton, and edited by Heather Kelley)

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