The strain of flu virus that is alarming the world is so new and poorly understood that it justifies the U.S. government's multi-pronged efforts to fight it, President Barack Obama said Saturday.
Swine flu, or H1N1 flu as the government calls it, has caused only one confirmed U.S. death. But medical authorities fear it could become much worse, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, and that's why he has thrown substantial federal resources into the campaign against it.
"This is a new strain of the flu virus, and because we haven't 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, it's 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."
Obama said it is not clear why the virus has claimed far more victims in Mexico than elsewhere. That is "why we are taking all necessary precautions in the event that the virus does turn into something worse," he said.
He recapped his administration's efforts. They include asking schools with confirmed cases of the flu virus to close for up to 14 days; urging employers to let infected workers take all the sick days they need; and reminding Americans to wash their hands often, cover their coughs and stay home if ill.
Obama noted that the flu strain "can be defeated by a course of antiviral treatment that we already have on hand." One-fourth of the nation's 50 million courses of the treatment have been distributed to states, he said.
Obama has asked Congress for $1.5 billion to buy more medicine and equipment if needed.
"It is my greatest hope and prayer that all of these precautions and preparations prove unnecessary," the president said. "I would sooner take action now than hesitate and face graver consequences later."