W.H. prepares for possible flu pandemic

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White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sunday that the deadly human swine influenza that has spread through Mexico is a “great concern” for the administration and that the government is preparing for the possibility of a pandemic to hit the United States.

Mr. Gibbs, speaking on NBCs “Meet the Press,” said government agencies including the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the spread of the flu closely and are briefing President Obama every few hours.

“It’s serious enough to be a great concern to this White House and to this government,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We are taking proper precautions to address anything that happens. It’s not a time to panic.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scheduled a Sunday afternoon news conference to provide an update on swine flu outbreaks in the United States and the administration’s response.

At least 11 confirmed cases of swine flu have been reported in recent days in California, Texas and Kansas, with those infected ranging in age from 9 to 50 and older.

On Sunday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the CDC has confirmed that the swine flu had infected eight students of a city high school.

A flu strain in Mexico has killed up to 81 people and likely sickened 1,324 since April 13.

No deaths have been reported in the United States connected with the flu.

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Sunday the administration wouldn’t rule out travel restrictions to Mexico.

“I don’t want to prejudge what the officials are going to say later today,” Ms. Jarrett told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But let’s just put it this way: The president is taking this very seriously. He has assembled his teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Homeland Security. He has been briefed regularly. And he has asked them to speak to the American people and give the appropriate counsel later today.”

The president traveled to Mexico this month, and Ms. Jarrett said he is not ill.

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