Swine flu: Be prepared, not panicked, White House says

The outbreak is small so far. As a result, the administration is not yet taking any drastic measures.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Be prepared: Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, addresses reporters during a press conference Sunday.

Obama administration officials sought to reassure an edgy public about a potential swine flu outbreak Sunday, stressing the need for patience and preparedness, not panic.

At this point, they said, there is no need for the nation to take drastic measures, such as restrictions on travel from Mexico, the epicenter of the suspected swine flu outbreak. But Americans will need to increase their vigilance, they said.

So far 20 cases of swine flu have been reported in the US, with the latest in Ohio and New York City. All have been mild, with patients recovering fairly quickly.

But Richard Besser, acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it is probable that the number of reported cases will rise in coming days, in part because public health officials will unearth previously undiscovered ones once they they start looking.

Mexico has closed schools, museums, libraries, and other public gathering places following some 1,400 reported swine flu cases. Some 81 deaths have been linked to the disease.

Around the world isolated pockets of suspected cases are appearing. New Zealand authorities have said that 10 students who took a school trip to Mexico now have been diagnosed with swine flu. In France, four suspected cases are under surveillance, all linked to Mexican travel.

Some nations have already issued warnings about travel to Mexico and the US. Others are increasing their screening of pork products from North America, or banning them outright, though "you cannot get swine flu from eating pork," said Janet Napolitano, secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security.

China, Russia, and Taiwan have begun planning to quarantine anyone showing symptoms of the swine flu virus.

In the United States, public health officials are stressing personal hygiene. But more concerted action isn't yet necessary, given the small number of reported cases in the US, said officials at the White House.

"If need be we will increase warnings based on what the situation warrants," said Dr. Besser.

The Department of Homeland Secruity already has declared a public health emergency in the US due to the swine flu situation, announced Secretary Napolitano. The reason is more to prepare for a possible widening of the outbreak than to deal with existing problems, she said.

"It's like what we do when a hurricane is approaching the US," she said. "We're leaning forward."

As part of the US response, some 12 million doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu will be moved from a federal stockpile to sites more quickly accessible by states, said Napolitano. The five states with cases reported so far – New York, California, Texas, Ohio, and Kansas – will get priority.

In Washington, an interagency task force will meet daily to monitor the sitution, said John Brennan, assistant to the president for Homeland Security.

Obama himself recently traveled to Mexico, but has been home for nine days. "Neither he, nor anybody he traveled with, nor anybody in the traveling press corps, has shown any symptoms, as far as I am aware," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

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