WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid surging worries about a global pandemic, the United States launched border screening for swine flu exposure Monday and a top federal health official said people should brace for more severe cases, "and possibly deaths."
Richard Besser, acting head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that American authorities were undertaking "passive screening" at its borders and reiterated the Obama administration's call for people to remain calm. Besser said that U.S. officials at border checkpoints were "asking people about fever and illness, looking for people who are ill."
Besser discussed the problem on morning news shows as President Barack Obama prepared to address it later Monday morning in remarks to a meeting of the nation's top scientists.
The U.S. declared a national health emergency Sunday in the midst of uncertainty about whether a mounting sick count really meant ongoing infections — or just that health officials had missed something simmering for weeks or months. But the declaration did allow Washington to ship roughly 12 million doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile to states in case they eventually need them.
Besser traveled the morning news-show circuit Monday, telling interviewers the U.S. government was being "extremely aggressive" and saying he wouldn't personally recommend traveling to parts of Mexico where the new virus has taken hold. But he noted that the issue of a travel ban was under discussion and that nothing had been decided.
Besser said he was not reassured by the fact that so far in the U.S., no one has died from the disease.
"From what we understand in Mexico, I think people need to be ready for the idea that we could see more severe cases in this country and possibly deaths," he said. "That's something people have to be ready for and we're looking for that. So far, thankfully, we haven't seen that. But we're very concerned and that's why we're taking very aggressive measures."