U.S. President Barack Obama says it is not clear that swine influenza A-H1N1 will be more severe than other kinds of flu. But the president says the U.S. government is making preparations for the worst-case scenario.
After the second Cabinet meeting of his presidency, Mr. Obama told reporters his administration is preparing for the worst the swine flu could do. "It may turn out that H1N1 runs its course like ordinary flus, in which case, we will have prepared and we will not need all these preparations," he said.
The president says experts are not sure whether swine flu will be more severe than more common seasonal flus. But he says it is cause for concern because it is a new strain, and people have not built up an immunity to it.
Mr. Obama also says government agencies are preparing in case the flu comes back in a stronger form in the normal flu season. "Since we know that these kinds of threats can emerge at any moment, even if it turns out that the H1N1 is relatively mild on the front end, it could come back in a more virulent form during the actual flu season," he said.
Mr. Obama praised his Cabinet and the health experts who have been developing a response to the swine flu. "Overall, I am very pleased with the progress that we have made. I think that those who have been on top of this have done an extraordinary job. I am optimistic that we are going to be able to manage this effectively, but we still have more work to do, and I am glad I have got such a great team doing it," he said.
This was the first meeting of Mr. Obama's full cabinet, after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took office on Tuesday. The president says she faced the flu outbreak immediately. "She was sworn in by my side in the Oval Office, and then went straight to the Situation Room to get to work dealing with this emergency," he said.
Sebelius was given a second, ceremonial oath of office on Friday, by Vice President Joe Biden.
President Obama said Sebelius is watching the situation carefully, along with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Dr. Richard Besser, the acting Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By Friday, the United States had 141 confirmed cases of H1N1, with the flu reported in 19 states. One death from the virus has been confirmed in the U.S. of a small child in the state of Texas. The government said 433 schools had closed, affecting about 245,000 children.