After months of warnings and hectic preparations, the second wave of the swine flu pandemic is making its way around the country as doctors, health clinics, hospitals and schools are reporting rapidly increasing numbers of patients with symptoms. And despite federal guidelines to the contrary, many schools are choosing to close their doors in an effort to stem the epidemic.

Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a briefing on Friday that at least 26 states, including Maryland and Virginia, are now reporting widespread flu activity, up from 21 states a week earlier.  "H1N1 activity is now widespread," Frieden said.  

Swine flu, also known as H1N1, tends to strike younger people more than the seasonal flu. At least 49 children have died from complications caused by the virus so far in the United States. In Austin, Tx., so many children were recently admitted with swine flu symptoms to Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas that the hospital had to set up tents in the parking lot to cope with the onslaught. The same thing happened at the Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn.  

Despite new federal guidelines aimed at keeping schools open, the pandemic has prompted scattered school closings around the country in recent weeks, including 42 schools that closed in eight states on Friday, affecting more than 16,000 students. The private school in Manning, S.C., where 11-year-old Ashlie Pipkin had attended before she died from swine flu, shut down after the number of students who were out sick with similar symptoms reached nearly a third of the student body.

Particularly hard hit are the colleges and universities across the country where 91 percent of the 267 colleges and universities being surveyed by the American College Health Association are now reporting cases. Some schools have opened separate dorms for sick students. 

Despite the hysteria surrounding swine flu, it's important to remember that most cases of the illness reported thus far have been mild. Health experts recommend that unless children are seriously ill or have other conditions that put them at risk, parents should keep them home, give them Motrin or Tylenol for their symptoms as well as lots of fluids, and wait it out. Some doctors report that children tend to recover within about four days, a day or two shorter than with the typical flu.

Also, visit MNN's swine flu eco-glossary page for the latest news plus information on symptoms and treatments. 

Photo: 19melissa68 

42 schools close due to swine flu
Widespread cases of swine flu cause schools to close and hospitals to set up additional facilities.