WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. swine flu caseload rose to 65 in six states on Tuesday as lawmakers launched emergency hearings to evaluate the government’s response to what doctors warn could become a pandemic.
President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion extra to strengthen the country’s response to the outbreak.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said on its web site that the new total included 10 cases in California, 2 in Kansas, 45 in New York, one in Ohio and 6 in Texas.
An additional case was reported by Indiana state authorities.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency over the flu outbreak, enabling rapid deployment of funds and personnel to fight the disease. Federal officials declared a national public health emergency on Sunday.
The new strain of swine flu has killed up to 149 people in Mexico, but cases seen elsewhere have been mild. One CDC official said five of the U.S. cases had required hospitalization.
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday the current outbreak could lead to only a mild pandemic but warned that even this could have serious consequences.
Worldwide, 79 cases have now been confirmed in laboratories recognized by the WHO and officially notified to the United Nations agency.
In California and Texas, authorities have ordered schools shut where students have tested positive for the swine flu virus.
New York City continued to log the most confirmed cases of infection, many at a Queens private school where the virus has sickened at least 28 students. Officials had earlier said as many as 100 students might have been sickened.
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services identified five probable cases of the flu in people who recently traveled to Mexico or California. All had mild symptoms and none were hospitalized.
Test results from the CDC are expected within two days.
Anxious Americans appeared increasingly worried about swine flu but there were few signs of panic - although sales of flu medication and items like face masks are up in some places close to where cases have been confirmed.
“It’s a weird situation right now,” said Aaron Armelin, 33, a telecommunications technician in Los Angeles.
“Everyone’s a little leery of anyone coughing. Even though the news makes it seem really, really bad, it doesn’t seem like it’s actually that much of a concern,” Armelin added.
In Washington, lawmakers called an emergency hearing to examine the flu situation and government’s preparations to fight a possible pandemic.
“The (pandemic) potential is there and what we’re focusing on very much is to contain the spread of this ... and its an evolving, dynamic situation,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate hearing.
Worldwide, seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 in an average year, 36,000 in the United States alone.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, a senior CDC official, said only five of the U.S. cases detected thus far had needed hospital treatment. But she cautioned that Americans should not take too much heart from the fact that swine flu cases detected in the country thus far had been far milder than those in Mexico.
“I think that we are really at early days here in the United States and we may see a worsening of the disease that we are seeing,” Schuchat told the panel. “Influenza viruses are notorious for changing.”