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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano briefed reporters at the White House on Sunday as the number of swine flu cases in the U.S. rose to 20.

The outbreak is far flung, with the worst hit area centered in Mexico City, where 81 deaths have been inked to a swine flu epidemic. Churches in the capital city did not hold Sunday Mass because of the threat of spreading the illness. Officials have closed all of the area schools and universities until further notice.

Dr. Richard Besser, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speculates that the number of reported cases will rise in the days ahead. U.S. cases have been confirmed in New York City, Ohio, California, Kansas and Texas. Eight students from St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens have tested positive, with over 100 students absent from the school last week.

The CDC website indicates that the disease is not transmitted by eating pork or pork products. The virus can be spread from pigs to people and the other way around. Human to human transmission is also possible. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Others are reporting runny noise, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Anti viral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir are being recommended for treatment. CDC website here.

According the White House spokesman Robert Gibb, the outbreak “is of great concern to the White House. I would tell people it’s certainly not a time to panic. If you’re sick, stay home, get treatment, go see a doctor. The government is taking all the steps it needs to and must do to deal with whatever size and scope we may be facing.” He indicated the President Obama is receiving regular briefings and is very concerned.

Internationally, New Zealand officials say 22 students and their teachers, recently returning from Mexico via Los Angeles may have become infected. Fourteen of them are experiences flu-like symptoms after the three week trip.

U.S. health officials indicate that some of the confirmed cases of the virus in the United States matched samples of the deadly Mexican strain of the virus. According to Gregory Hartl of the World Health Organization, the strain of the virus seen in Mexico is worrisome because it has mutated from older strains. “Any time there is a virus which changes…it means perhaps the immunities the human body has built up to deal with influenza might not be adjusted well enough to deal with this new virus.”

The U.S. has not yet issued any travel warnings or quarantines.

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