U.S. ‘Investing Every Resource Necessary’ To Address Current H1N1 Flu Emergency, Obama Says in Weekly Address
President Obama on Saturday during his weekly radio and Internet address said that his administration is working to address the recent public health emergency involving the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, also known as swine flu, The Hill reports. He said, "It is my greatest hope and prayer that all of these precautions and preparations prove unnecessary," 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."
Obama said that the federal government is "investing every resource necessary to treat this virus and prevent a wider outbreak." He added, "The good news is that the current strain of H1N1 can be defeated by a course of antiviral treatment that we already have on hand." According to Obama, the administration has already released more than 10 million courses of antiviral drugs from the Strategic National Stockpile (Jacobs, The Hill, 5/2). HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the U.S. will spend $251 million to purchase an additional 13 million courses to treat influenza strains, including H1N1, to add to the stockpile. In addition, the U.S. is sending 400,000 courses to Mexico to treat patients there (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 5/1).
During the address, Obama spoke about his recent request for an additional $1.5 billion in the fiscal year 2009 war supplemental appropriations bill to address the emergency and prepare for a possible epidemic, which he said he did "[o]ut of an abundance of caution" and to assist in "the development of a vaccine that can prevent this virus as we prepare for the next flu season in the fall" (The Hill, 5/2).
Virus Less Virulent Than 1918 Strain
The current H1N1 influenza virus strain is less virulent than the 1918 flu pandemic that killed between 30 million and 50 million people worldwide, Nancy Cox, chief of the Influenza Division at CDC, said on Friday, CQ HealthBeat reports. Cox said that "we do not see the markers for virulence found in the 1918 virus" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/1). Acting CDC Administrator Richard Besser on Sunday during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" also confirmed that the H1N1 virus lacks the virulence factors that were in the 1918 pandemic flu or the avian flu emergency a few years ago (Achenbach, Washington Post, 5/4).
However, researchers remain unclear about what factors make flu viruses virulent. Cox said, "There is a great deal that we do not understand about the virulence of the 1918 virus or other influenza viruses" (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 5/2). According to Cox, because the genes in the strains of the current virus are "99 to 100 percent identical," it will be easier to develop an effective vaccine (CQ HealthBeat, 5/1). CDC officials have yet to make a decision about whether to develop a vaccine for the current strain. Obama in his weekly address said that the government would support such development (Robbins/Grady, New York Times, 5/3). According to Cox, about 25% of U.S. residents exposed to the H1N1 virus become ill, compared with the between 5% to 20% of people exposed to seasonal flu who develop respiratory illness.
CDC officials on Friday said that the current H1N1 strain is spreading fast enough that it could already be classified as a mild pandemic (Wall Street Journal, 5/2). As of Sunday, CDC has confirmed 226 cases of H1N1 flu in 30 states. Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director for science and public health at CDC, on Sunday said, "I think it's circulating all over the U.S.," adding, "The virus has arrived, I would say, in most of the country now." However, most U.S. cases have been mild, which is a positive indicator, according to Schuchat. However, she said, "I don't think we're out of the woods yet" (Grady, New York Times, 5/4).
NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday included interviews with Besser, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Sebelius about the current H1N1 flu virus (Gregory, "Meet the Press," NBC, 5/3).