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October 25, 2009

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Flu a national US emergency

UNITED States President Barack Obama has declared the A/H1N1 swine flu a national emergency, the White House said yesterday.

The declaration will make it easier for US medical facilities to handle a surge in flu patients by allowing the waiver of some requirements of Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health insurance programs as needed, the White House said in a statement.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that A/H1N1 swine flu has become widespread in 46 of the 50 US states, a level comparable to the peak of ordinary flu seasons but far earlier and with more waves of infection expected.

President Obama signed the declaration on Friday night.

The White House statement said the declaration was intended to prepare the country in case of "a rapid increase in illness that may overburden health care resources."

It was similar to disaster declarations issued before hurricanes hit coastal areas.

"It's important to note that this is a proactive measure -- not a response to a new development," an administration official said.

"A/H1N1 is moving rapidly, as expected," the official added.

"By the time regions or health care systems recognize they are becoming overburdened, they need to implement disaster plans quickly," he said.

Seasonal flu normally peaks sometime between late November and early March.

Swine flu has hit young adults and children the hardest, while seasonal flu normally is more dangerous for people over age 65.

A/H1N1 has killed more than 1,000 Americans and put more than 20,000 in hospitals in the United States.


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