As confirmed U.S. cases of the swine flu rose to 642 and a second death was reported, health officials on Wednesday said the United States has never been more ready to handle an unpredictable viral outbreak, and that developments for a swine flu vaccine are under way.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Foreign Affairs Africa and Global Health Subcommittee on Wednesday that the first few steps required to manufacture a new flu vaccine have been taken. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is growing a seed virus that will eventually be given to pharmaceutical companies to develop "pilot lots" of the vaccine that will then be used to determine the vaccine's safety, efficiency and dosage regimen.
"The decision to scale up the manufacturing of tens of millions of doses has not been made at this point, nor has any decision been made regarding the administration," Fauci said. "We are just in an early part of the stepwise process of developing the vaccine."
The second U.S. death was a woman living near the Texas-Mexico border.
House Africa and Global Health Subcommittee Chairman Donald Payne, D-N.J., convened the hearing to discuss the implications of the deadly virus circulating in developing nations and how the United States is supporting their response. Payne said the absence of confirmed cases in Africa may be the result of an inability to detect the virus strain, "which could mean that the true impact of this strain is yet to be seen." As of Wednesday, the CDC reported that 1,516 cases of the virus have been confirmed worldwide.
Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting deputy director for science and programs, said strains of influenza viruses are extremely unpredictable, and she expects to see more countries announce cases of H1N1 virus.
"Unfortunately, as with many public health problems, lack of infrastructure and resources in developing countries in particular can expect to bear a significant burden in this epidemic," she said. Schuchat is suspicious about the absence of cases reported in Africa and told members that just because no cases have been reported it does not mean they have not occured.
The CDC is paying special attention to countries in the Southern Hemisphere, where the influenza season is just beginning, she said.