Swine Flu Kills 8, Sickens 35 in Ecuador

Is H1N1, the illness formerly known as swine flu, making a comeback?

That’s the question being asked in Ecuador after eight deaths and 35 confirmed cases of H1N1 were reported during the month of December.

Government officials, however, insist they are not dealing with an epidemic.

Juan Moreira, national director of epidemiology for the country's Department of Health, told Efe that out of 467 samples analyzed, 35 tested positive for H1N1. The others, he said, tested positive for other types of viruses or colds.

"What we want to do is protect the most vulnerable population,” Moreira told Efe, adding that the number of cases of H1N1 were “within an expected range.”

Ecuador would be the first country with an H1N1 epidemic since the 2009 pandemic, which caused widespread panic but turned out to be less of a global threat than originally feared. More than 16,000 people worldwide died from that strain of flu, and thousands more were sickened. H1N1 also forced the closure of dozens schools and made hand sanitizers as common as soap.

H1N1 is now considered a seasonal flu and public health officials have said they expect localized outbreaks. An unusual surge of the strain also has also been reported in Britain.

“Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come,” the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, said when the organization declared an end to last year’s global pandemic in August.

Chan said beginning the post-pandemic period did not mean that “the H1N1 virus has gone away.”

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