Nearly 1,000 cases are confirmed so far, with many reported in the last week.
As the H1N1 swine flu outbreak expands its reach to more countries, the World Health Organization has declared the situation a pandemic. The virus is also continuing spread locally, though cases have almost all been mild.
Swine flu was first detected in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania about six weeks ago. Since then, regular, seasonal flu infections have all but disappeared. But the number of H1N1 cases has jumped in the past week, about 20 percent in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Two Pennsylvanians have died from the virus, but most cases have been mild. Stacy Kriedeman is a spokesperson at the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Kriedeman: It’s been a pretty significant increase. The disease appears to be migrating somewhat to the central part of the state and the northeast part of the state. Why that’s happening, it’s difficult to say, but we are seeing an increase.
Sarah Bass, a public health professor at Temple, says the increase is likely because this strain of flu came around late in the season.
Bass: It actually is peaking later than the seasonal flu would. Since we didn’t really start to see a peak of swine flu until almost the end of the seasonal flu season is probably why we still are seeing cases now.
Bass says she expects cases in the US to fall off in the coming weeks. But the southern hemisphere is just entering its flu season.
Kriedeman says the health department has been treating the situation as a pandemic all along.
Kriedeman: We would sit down with schools and discuss what was going on and what might be the best option. Was closure an option. And that’s the type of social distancing you might expect to see during a phase 6 pandemic. So we’ve been trying to stay a step ahead of this disease.
Kriedeman says people should follow the same prevention guidelines of hand washing and staying home if they feel sick. Vaccine producers are making progress toward having a pandemic flu shot available by the fall.