- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

As federal health agencies reported 160 confirmed cases of the swine flu in 21 states Saturday, President Obama used his weekly radio address 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.

The death of a toddler in Texas is the only U.S. fatality linked to the disease so far, and most of the cases in the United States are mild, said Anne Schuchat, the interim deputy director for science and public health programs of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I will not be surprised if we find additional cases or additional deaths,” she said.

Mr. Obama talked about the plentiful supply of antiviral medicine that 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 havent 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, its 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 that 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 and 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 well be making every recommendation based on the best science possible.”

This strain of flu can strike people in all social classes. The Associated Press reported yesterday that the toddler who died in Houston was born into one of Mexico’s wealthiest families.

The father of Miguel Tejada Vazquez, 21 months old, is a well-known architect, and his grandfather is a Mexican media mogul who serves on the International Olympic Committee.

The White House said that Mr. Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, discussed the H1N1 flu outbreak by telephone Saturday.

The two leaders “spoke for 20 minutes [Saturday] afternoon 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 in a brief statement.

In Mexico, the epicenter of the swine-flu outbreak, the government has confirmed 427 cases of the disease, including 19 deaths.

The flu outbreak has caused the cancellation and postponement of some Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico and the United States. The holiday marks the Mexican victory in the Battle of Pueblaon on May 5, 1862, over the occupying French forces.

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