First US death from swine flu reported

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that schools with cases of swine flu should consider closing, as U.S. health officials confirmed the first death outside of Mexico in the current outbreak.

Obama offered his thoughts and prayers for the family of the 23-month-old child in Texas, whose death from the illness was the first confirmed in the United States.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said he wants Americans to know the government is doing "whatever is necessary" to contain the emerging health threat.

"This is obviously a serious situation," Obama said, that "we are closely and continuously monitoring." He urged local authorities to be vigilant in reporting any suspected flu cases.

Obama said the federal government is "prepared to do whatever is necessary to control the impact of this virus." He noted his request for $1.5 billion in emergency funding to ensure adequate supplies of vaccines.

And he advised individuals to take their own precautions — washing hands, staying home if they are sick, and keeping sick kids home.

The child's death was confirmed earlier by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Dave Daigle. The child died in Houston, Kathy Barton, a spokeswoman for the city's health department, told KTRK-TV.

Houston spokesman Frank Michel told the Houston Chronicle the child came from Brownsville, in south Texas. Barton said the toddler came from Mexico.

Obama said public health officials recommend that authorities at schools with confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu "should strongly consider temporarily closing so that we can be as safe as possible."

He advised parents to get ready for such disruptions.

"If the situation becomes more serious and we have to take more extensive steps, then parents should also think about contingencies if schools in their areas do temporarily shut down, figuring out and planning what their child care situation would be," Obama advised.

The acting head of the CDC called the confirmation of the child's death is tragic, but said it's too soon to say just how fast the swine flu virus is spreading.

Dr. Richard Besser said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show that health authorities had anticipated that the virus would cause deaths, and said that "as a pediatrician and a parent, my heart goes out to the family."

But he said it's too soon to say if the death in Texas suggests the virus is spreading to more states. Nor would he say whether officials think it will become a nationwide problem.

He also said he does not believe the flu strain has become more dangerous and noted that even with seasonal flu, there are always some people who can't resist it very well.

Children, especially those younger than age 5, are particularly vulnerable to flu and its complications, and every year children die from seasonal flu.

According to the CDC, more than 20,000 children younger than age 5 are hospitalized every year in the United States because of seasonal flu. In the 2007-08 flu season, the CDC received reports that 86 children nationwide died from flu complications.

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