A presidential panel has recommended that the U.S. government speed up availability of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, develop a better system for tracking the virus and appoint a White House staff member to coordinate the nationwide response.
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued an 86-page report Monday that also recommended developing communications strategies before the resurgence of the H1N1 flu, which is expected to be stronger and more widespread this fall and winter, the Washington Post reported.
The stakes could be high, the panel warned: Up to half of the U.S. population could become infected with the swine flu, 1.8 million people could be hospitalized, and up to 90,000 could die.
The regular seasonal flu typically kills an estimated 36,000 Americans each year, the majority of them elderly.
The president's council also urged the Obama administration to clarify how antiviral drugs can best be used to combat the pandemic, according to the Post report.
"Influenza brings many challenges, and agencies across the government will need to make many key decisions in the face of uncertainty about when and how the virus will play out," Eric Lander of the Broad Institute, council co-chair, said in a statement. "As we did in the spring, we can hope for the best. But we must prepare for the worst."
The World Health Organization in June declared a flu pandemic after the H1N1 virus emerged in Mexico and quickly spread to the United States and other countries around the world.
The U.S. government plans to purchase at least 159 doses of vaccine, but the initial doses aren't expected until mid-October.
Since it was first identified last spring after surfacing in Mexico and quickly spreading to the United States, the H1N1 swine flu virus has continued to produce mild infections, with most people recovering quickly. Unlike regular seasonal flu, however, swine flu seems to target children and young adults.
The good news, according to global health officials, is that the virus has shown no signs of mutating and becoming more virulent as it continues to circle the globe.