President Barack Obama is monitoring the spreading virus and has reviewed US capabilities to counter the deadly flu outbreak, which has killed a possible 81 people in Mexico, White House homeland security advisor John Brennan told reporters.
Obama has ordered a “very active, aggressive, and coordinated response,” Brennan said.
Richard Besser, the acting head of the Centers for Disease Control, told a White House press conference there were eight confirmed US cases in New York City, seven in California, two in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Ohio.
“As we look for cases of swine flu, we are seeing more cases of swine flu. We expect to see more cases of swine flu,” said Besser. “We\’re responding aggressively to try and learn more about this outbreak” and to implement measures to control its spread, he added.
“We\’ve ramped up our surveillance around the country to try and understand better what is the scope, what is the magnitude of this outbreak.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the US Department of Health and Human Services would declare Sunday a public health emergency in response to the outbreak, adding that the declaration was “standard operating procedure.”
The move allows government agencies to free up federal, state, and local agencies and their resources in the virus prevention effort.
The declaration also allows officials “to use medication and diagnostic tests that we might not otherwise be able to use, particularly on very young children, and … releases funds for the acquisitions of additional anti-virals.”
Napolitano added that: “All persons entering the United States from a location of human infection of swine flu will be processed through all appropriate CDC (Centers for Disease Control) protocols.”
Suspected swine flu cases were being tested in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, after the new strain gain attention out of Mexico last week.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials warned the new strain, apparently born when human and avian flu viruses infected pigs and became mixed, could further mutate. US immigration officials are looking for people with flu symptoms, said Napolitano .
“Travelers who do present with symptoms, if and when encountered, will be isolated per established rules,” she said. “They will be provided both with personal protective equipment and we\’ll continue to emphasize universal hand washing.”
Similar emergency health declarations were issued for floods in recent months in the US states of Minnesota and North Dakota and President Barack Obama\’s inauguration in January, she said.
The US national stock pile contains 50 million treatment courses of anti-viral drugs for the flu outbreak, Napolitano said.
“We are releasing 25 percent of those courses, making them available to all of the states, but particularly prioritizing the states where we have confirmed incidents of the flu. In addition, the Pentagon “has procured and strategically pre-positioned” seven million treatment courses of the flu drug Tamiflu.