| GEO World|
| U.S. acts swiftly to contain swine flu outbreak|
| Updated at: 0653 PST, Monday, April 27, 2009|
WASHINGTON: The United States declared a public health emergency on Sunday because of an outbreak of swine flu that has been diagnosed in 20 people in this country -- the same strain suspected of killing 81 people in Mexico.
The outbreak is yet another distraction for President Barack Obama as he focuses on rescuing the economy from its worst crisis in decades. His administration will also be mindful of the damage to former President George W. Bush over his government's inept handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"At this point, a top priority is to ensure that communication is robust and that medical surveillance efforts are fully activated," John Brennan, assistant to the president for Homeland Security, told a White House briefing.
Dr Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a separate briefing she feared that some people would die in the United States as the virus spread.
Health and Homeland Security officials announced steps to release some of the U.S. stockpiles of the anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. They recommended that local authorities plan for possible school closures and that anyone with symptoms stay at home to reduce the possibility of transmission.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it was too early to say what impact the outbreak could have on efforts to get the economy back on its feet. Spiraling healthcare costs are already a huge drain on the economy.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the declaration of the public health emergency was necessary to free federal, state and local agencies' resources and authorize the release of funds to buy more antivirals.
"This is standard operating procedure," Napolitano stressed, adding that similar declarations had been issued in the past to help states cope with flooding or hurricanes.