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Despite the declaration of a public health emergency in the United States on Sunday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Google's flu-monitoring service suggests that concerns about swine flu contagion should not lead to panic.
Google reports that Google Flu Trends isn't showing a significant spike in flu cases.
"The current flu activity level is still generally low across the U.S. Our graphs are updated daily," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail.
At the same time, Google is urging people to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the most current information about the swine flu outbreak.
While people appear to be taking that advice -- searches for the CDC Web site, www.cdc.gov, rank 10 on Google's Hot Trends list, and "Swine Flu" is the top search topic at Twitter -- they're also augmenting official information with user-generated maps of the outbreak and links to a variety of health resources.
A spokesman for the California Department of Public Health said that as long as the information being disseminated is accurate, more information is better. "In this current swine flu outbreak, more information is important," he said, noting that people need to have the information necessary to take precautions. Doing so, he said, could help limit further swine flu cases.
"The CDC is very worried about the swine flu outbreak," he said. "Fortunately, in the U.S., there have been no fatalities." He said that scientists are still trying to understand why there have been fatalities in Mexico.
At a media briefing on Monday, Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, revised the number of confirmed cases in the United States from 20 reported on Sunday to 40.
The additional 20 cases have all been identified in New York City and are the result of follow-up testing at a school there rather than accelerating contagion. Other states reporting cases are Ohio, Kansas, Texas, and California.
Besser said that one person in the United States has been hospitalized because of swine flu and that all infected people in the United States have recovered. He said that the median age of people infected is 16 and that the age range has been from 7 to 54 years.
"Thankfully so far we've not seen severe disease in this country, as has been reported in Mexico," he said. More than 100 people have reportedly died in Mexico as a result of the swine flu.
Besser urged businesses to review their continuity plans in the event that the outbreak has an impact on employees. He said he would not recommend wearing masks in the workplace, but advised taking standard precautions like hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and not going into work while sick.
He also said that the United States would issue a travel advisory later today urging people to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.
The CDC's Swine Flu Web page has further useful information about the outbreak.
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