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US CDC seeing more regular flu cases now

US health officials are seeing a surprisingly high number of cases of ordinary, seasonal flu at a time when the flu season typically peters out, and about half of the people testing positive for flu have the new swine flu virus.

Dr. Daniel Jernigan of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the disclosure yesterday in discussing the spread of the virus.

Those who don't have swine flu have seasonal flu, which is still causing widespread or regional illness in about two dozen states and is "something that we would not expect at this time," Jernigan said.

"We would be expecting the season to be slowing down or almost completely stopped," he said.

The higher numbers of seasonal flu cases do not seem to be just because health officials are looking harder this year because of worries about swine flu, Jernigan said.

In another large US outbreak, New York City announced yesterday it was closing three more schools where students have been sickened with swine flu symptoms. That brings the number of shuttered schools to six.

A city official says the new schools are in Queens and Brooklyn.

The latest closures suggest the virus is spreading quickly, although officials caution that the symptoms have generally been mild. However, an assistant principal is in critical condition with a confirmed case.

The city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said yesterday that the large clusters of cases were "a little surprising."

New York City officials said they weren't sure why the virus was spreading so rapidly.

In the United States, there are now more than 4,700 probable and confirmed cases of swine flu, and 173 hospitalizations and four deaths, the CDC's Jernigan said. The tally doesn't include a fifth death that Texas officials said yesterday was due to swine flu.

Texas health officials said the victim was a 33-year-old Corpus Christi man who had heart problems.

"The H1N1 virus is not going away," Jernigan said. The virus "appears to be expanding throughout the United States" and poses "an ongoing public health threat," he said.

Swine flu continues to affect more younger people - those ages 5 to 24 - and CDC is still seeing relatively few cases in older people.

Jernigan said it "may be just a matter of time" before older and younger groups are involved.

Officials are still monitoring the situation in Mexico, where the outbreak began. However, the CDC's quarantine chief, Dr. Martin Cetron, said the agency soon would downgrade its warnings about travel to Mexico.

The CDC had urged people to avoid nonessential travel to that country, but that will be changed to just a precaution for people at high risk of flu complications.


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