WH Panel Warns of Major Swine Flu Outbreak

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WASHINGTON -- A special White House panel is warning the country to prepare for a swine flu outbreak. The government is working on a vaccine, but it may not be ready in time.

Worst case scenario from the White House panel: the H1N1 flu virus infects half the country, putting almost 2 million Americans in the hospital and possibly causing 30,000 to 90,000 deaths.

Around 36,000 people die from the flu in an average year.

Certain parts of the population are more vulnerable to the swine flu.

"We know it spreads rapidly among otherwise healthy kids. Unusual for a flu," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

A vaccine to fight it won't be ready till mid-October, just when the outbreak might be at its worst.

So the panel is recommending some of the vaccine be rushed out for those at highest risk, even though it won't be thoroughly tested.

That worries some public health experts.

"Trying to rush in with an unknown ... with an untested quantity of vaccine doesn't appeal to me at all," said Dr. Willian Schaffner of Vanderbilt University.

But even without a vaccine, the best medicine is still preventive measures everyone can take on their own.

"(Do) the things that our grandmothers taught us. We need to cover our cough or our sneeze, we need to wash our hands frequently, we need to use alcohol-based sanitizers," said Dr. David Lakey with the Texas Department of Health Services.

"Get that soap and water in between those fingers because that's where bacteria and germs can hide," a teacher said.

Emily Bird of Huntsville, Ala., listed some things to do if you're trying to avoid catching or spreading swine flu.

"Go to the doctor ... try to stay away from everyone, stay away from common areas. ... I guess if you're really sick, you know, don't go to class; get someone to take notes and everything for you," she said. "But, you know, try to be considerate of the others who are trying to avoid the illness."

Burlingame public schools superintendent Allen Konicek advises parents to just keep that sick child at home.

"It's still a matter if you have an elevated temperature, you need to keep that child at home. That child needs to stay home until that temperature has broke, and they've been temperature free for 24 hours."

Many young people, like students at the University of Colorado Boulder, seem to think they're invulnerable.

"I have a good immune system so hopefully that'll help me out," freshmen Phil Locker said.

"I didn't think it was that big of a deal for me, " Sarah Adams said.

"It just seems more like a faraway thing," student Courtney Gibb said. 

But others, as their schools pass out flu-fighting kits, realize the danger is real.

"I feel like it is like a cause for concern, just because it is a lot of kids living together in close proximity and maybe not everybody washes their hands as often as they should," said Veronica Alix of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.

But if everyone will guard themselves, and if they get sick, guard those around them, the effects can be seriously minimized.

"Good citizenship is a key component of a good response," said Tod Bunting, the adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.