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President Obama Declares H1N1 National Emergency

President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 (swine) flu outbreak a national emergency, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The declaration, which Mr. Obama signed Friday, authorizes the administration to waive or modify certain federal requirements involving Medicare, Medicaid and health-privacy rules to speed treatment,” the newspaper writes (McKay/Simpson/Whalen, 10/26).

“Given that the rapid increase in illness across the nation may overburden health care resources and that the temporary waiver of certain standard federal requirements may be warranted in order to enable U.S. health care facilities to implement emergency operations plans, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the United States constitutes a national emergency,” Obama wrote in the declaration, The Hill reports. The declaration also applies to CHIP (Tiron, 10/24).

The national emergency declaration will “allow hospitals and governments on the local level to more rapidly prepare triage sites and procedures to handle any future surge in sick patients,” TIME writes. “A hospital in danger of being overrun by H1N1 patients would be allowed to segregate them in a separate site for treatment, which might slow the spread of the disease” (Walsh, 10/24).

“The declaration Saturday did not signify any unanticipated worsening in the United States of the H1N1 outbreak, officials said,” the New York Times reports. “It seemed likely, however, to increase concerns, disruptions and at times, panicky reactions, to a disease now affecting most parts of the world.” U.S. health officials on Friday said more than 1,000 Americans have died from H1N1 (Calmes/McNeil, 10/25).

In a second story, the New York Times examines growing confusion and anger among H1N1 vaccine-seekers in the U.S. Though the U.S. is currently experiencing an H1N1 vaccine shortage, health officials say current H1N1 shortages “are temporary.”

“As soon as the flu fades from the headlines (as some experts predict it will, because the pandemic’s fall wave may be peaking right now), so will the demand for shots,” allowing the government to “eventually … donate tens of millions of doses of swine flu vaccine to poor countries,” the newspaper writes (McNeil, 10/23).

Number of H1N1-Related Deaths Worldwide Near 5,000, WHO Reports

The WHO said Friday nearly 5,000 people worldwide have died from H1N1 since the virus was first identified last April, the Associated Press reports. “Since most countries have stopped counting individual swine flu cases, the figure is considered an underestimate,” the news service writes. According to the WHO, there were an estimated 4,999 deaths from H1N1 through Oct. 18 – a jump of 264 deaths from the week prior (10/24).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.