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Swine Flu Frenzy Intensifies

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Apr 27, 2009 3:00PM

What started as a buzz late last week has grown into full-on shrieking as this year's SARS has stepped up to the plate. With confirmed cases coming in from all over the country - including two in Kansas - the panic over the swine flu is rising. Which is fair enough: so far, 100 people are reported to have died in Mexico from the disease and it seems to be spreading fast. The threat of a pandemic even has the European Union urging cancellation of "nonessential travel" to North America.

Locally, the panic is also settling in. This morning on CBS 2's site, the main headline screamed, "Public Warned Swine Flu Coming To Chicago." And, indeed, with two specimens from Indiana being tested for the disease, there's certainly reason for concern, though it should be pointed out that the number of cases reported in the U.S. right now stands somewhere between 12 and 20, depending on which media outlet you believe, and all of the cases have been much more mild than the cases in Mexico. That hasn't stopped the U.S. from declaring a "Health Emergency", which entails various levels of government preparing for an outbreak much like they prepare for hurricanes (though we know how well that can turn out).

Locally, there's a Deerfield-based company interested in trying to find a vaccine to battle the Swine Flu. WGN Radio reports on Baxter International, a company that previously worked on a vaccine for bird flu.

Baxter spokesman Chris Bona says the recent outbreak in Mexico has the company working with the World Health Organization to come up with a vaccine. "It's done toward potentially developing an experimental vaccine. Just to be clear and not overstate expectations and where we're at, we've just requested a sample for lab testing at this point."

Bona says upon learning about the outbreak, the company asked the World Health Organization for a virus sample in order to do lab testing. He says Baxter has patented technology that allows the company to develop vaccines in half the time it usually takes - about 13 weeks instead of 26.

In the meantime, though, check out this report by Time that outlines five things you should know about Swine Flu and what's going on currently with the disease. Additionally, both the Tribune and the Sun-Times have their own run-downs of what's going.