- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 2, 2009

UPDATED:

President Obama used his weekly radio address Saturday to reassure the public about the flu outbreak and to tout the administration’s push to quickly spread information about the virus through social networking sites such as Twitter.

Mr. Obama talked about the plentiful antiviral medicine health officials are distributing throughout the country and noted he has asked Congress for $1.5 billion to purchase more medicine and equipment and to fund the development of a vaccine to use when the flu season begins anew in the fall.

Health officials are concerned the current swine flu strain, being called the H1N1 virus because it cannot be contracted by eating pork products, could mutate and come back in an aggressive form during the next flu season.

“This is a new strain of the flu virus, and because we haven’t developed an immunity to it, it has more potential to cause us harm,” the president said. “Unlike the various strains of animal flu that have emerged in the past, it’s a flu that is spreading from human to human. This creates the potential for a pandemic, which is why we are acting quickly and aggressively.”

In the address which also is posted on YouTube, Mr. Obama assured Americans while the flu’s impact has been biggest in Mexico, the strain that’s infecting people in the U.S. is not as potent or deadly.

“We cannot know for certain why that is, which is why we are taking all necessary precautions in the event that the virus does turn into something worse,” he said.

The president repeated his call for schools or child care facilities with confirmed cases of the flu to close for up to two weeks and again asked Americans to take basic flu prevention steps — washing hands, covering a cough and staying home if sick.

He also told Americans the White House has launched pages on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to inform the public.

“As our scientists and researchers learn more information about this virus every day, the guidance we offer will likely change,” Mr. Obama said. “What will not change is the fact that we’ll be making every recommendation based on the best science possible.”

Mr. Obama spoke Saturday with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

They spoke 20 minutes “to share information about each country’s efforts to limit the spread of the 2009 H1N1 flu strain and the importance of close U.S.-Mexican cooperation,” the White House said.

“It is my greatest hope and prayer that all of these precautions and preparations prove unnecessary,” Mr. Obama said. “But because we have it within our power to limit the potential damage of this virus, we have a solemn and urgent responsibility to take the necessary steps. I would sooner take action now than hesitate and face graver consequences later.”

As of Saturday morning the White House Twitter feed had 24,637 followers, and had posted 13 updates. Among them were video briefings about the flu, prevention tips and the president’s comments about the retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

The Twitter feed also directed followers to a photo of Mr. Obama shooting hoops with the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball champions.

Friday’s tweets were the first from the Obama White House — who used the “Barack Obama” Twitter feed just four times since he was inaugurated. That feed has more than 1 million followers.

Former President George W. Bush’s White House actually was the first to Twitter, starting in 2007.

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