Health officials and pharmaceutical companies are continuing to work on the manufacture and distribution of a new flu vaccine, even as concerns about the illness begin to subside, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told NPR on Thursday.
"We're not declaring victory over the H1N1 flu," Napolitano said in an interview for NPR's All Things Considered. "We also know, however, that this flu could come back, particularly in the fall, and, so, now were moving into 'let's get lessons learned' from the last 10 days and then move forward."
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 896 cases of H1N1 flu in 41 states, in addition to two deaths. World health authorities raised concerns about the possibility of a worldwide pandemic after the fast-spreading disease was identified in Mexico in April.
Mexican authorities closed schools and businesses all over the country in an effort to keep the flu from spreading after the illness sickened thousands. Mexican health officials said Thursday that the number of confirmed dead had risen to 44.
U.S. health authorities acted quickly to stop the flu's spread, closing many schools and conducting public awareness campaigns about the importance of good hygiene in controlling the illness. Customs and Border Protection officers also screened foreign travelers who appeared ill.
Napolitano said she was generally pleased with the government's response, in particular the good communication between CDC epidemiologists and federal, state and local officials as they drafted guidelines for schools and health departments.
Still, she said there is more work to do. This summer, authorities will lay out plans to deliver services despite high absenteeism in advance of the next flu season, she said.
"I'm not sure many in the private sector really are prepared and have thought through what do you do if you have a 30 percent absenteeism rate, nor in the government how do you make sure the basic functions of society continue even at the high point of an epidemic. So, that's the kind of planning now that we need to work on over the course of the summer," she said.