According to the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) there are now 33 countries reporting an estimated total of 5,916 confirmed swine flu cases, including 3,009 in 45 U.S. states, 2,282 in Mexico and 358 in Canada.
The number of confirmed deaths remains low at just 63, of which 58 were in Mexico, three in the U.S., one in Canada and one in Costa Rica. Suspected deaths are higher, especially in Mexico where epidemiology struggles to keep up with the lab work required to confirm results.
But experts worry about the chance that the virus might become more lethal in the coming months. Among their fears are that the virus may mutate and combine with the more deadly but less easily spread bird flu virus circulating in Asia and Africa. It may also acquire a resistance to antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, which happened in several flu virus strains observed last year.
Dr. Nikki Shindo, said the U.N. agency thinks antivirals should be targeted mainly at people already suffering from other diseases or complications, such as pregnancy that may compromise the body’s immune system.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said pregnant women in particular should take the drugs if they are diagnosed with swine flu.
Pregnant women are more likely to suffer pneumonia when they catch flu, and flu infections have raised the risk of premature birth in past flu epidemics such as the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. A pregnant Texas woman who had swine flu died last week, and at least 20 other pregnant women have swine flu, including some with severe complications.
Shindo, at WHO, said each country’s health experts must decide if infected people should immediately be treated with antivirals — a decision that also must take into account how many antivirals are available.
“As part of pandemic preparedness plans, we urge countries to plan for prioritization,” Shindo said.