Tom Randall
Bloomberg
May 1, 2009

Swine flu’s potential to reconfigure its genetic material and become more deadly is a “major concern,” said Anne Schuchat, a scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The prospect of what is called reassortment is keeping Schuchat and health officials worldwide on the alert even as the newest outbreak has proved itself to be relatively mild outside Mexico, where 19 of the 20 confirmed deaths were reported. Human cases of the disease have been confirmed in 30 U.S. states and 19 countries, according to the CDC and the World Health Organization, a global agency that may declare a pandemic.

Canadian health officials yesterday reported the world’s first case of the swine flu jumping to pigs from a human, probably after a farm worker in the province of Alberta became ill during a trip to Mexico. Additional gene reassortment has the potential to change the makeup of the disease, Schuchat said today in a conference call.

“The prospect of reassortment is always there with influenza,” Schuchat said in the conference call today. The agency is especially concerned that the new flu, already a risk of causing sickness and death worldwide, may mutate in human or pig populations, she said.

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