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Deadly Swine Flu Spreads; Taliban Peace Deal Off; EU Warns of Non-Essential Travel to U.S., Mexico; Holes in Obama Health Team; Family Isolated Over Flu Fears

Aired April 27, 2009 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and thanks very much for being with us on this Monday, it's the 27th of April. John Roberts together with Alina Cho who's in for Kiran Chetry this morning.

Good morning to you.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Always nice to sit next to you for three hours.

ROBERTS: And the feeling is mutual. Lots of news to tell folks about this morning.

CHO: Yes, there is. And we begin with the developing story this morning.

Health officials around the world are trying to contain the outbreak of a deadly new flu. Swine flu is what it's called. It's now suspected in more than 100 deaths in Mexico, stalled world travel and shut down a school in New York City.

The U.S. has declared a public health emergency in response to the swine flu epidemic. Twenty confirmed cases right here at home in five states, a rare move that allows the federal government to release some 12 million doses of flu fighting medication like Tamiflu from government stockpiles. The Defense Department is also moving seven million doses into place.

And flight crews are on heightened awareness looking out for any travelers with possible swine flu symptoms. United and American Airlines have both waived penalty fees for people with plans to fly through Mexico who now want to change their travel plans. At Heathrow Airport in London, passengers returning from Mexico reportedly kept on the plane for some 45 minutes as health officials checked them for symptoms.

ROBERTS: Alina, so far all of the confirmed cases of swine flu are in North America. Eight students at a high school in Queens, New York, have tested positive after they went to Cancun for spring break. There are also seven confirmed cases in California, two cases apiece in both Kansas and Texas, and one in Ohio. Canada has now also confirmed six mild cases of the virus.

And ground zero of the epidemic, Mexico. So far, swine flu being blamed for 103 deaths there. CNN has reporters standing by in every corner of the globe for you this morning. We'll be checking in with them throughout the morning.

Right now, Ted Rowlands is standing by in Mexico City. But first, let's go to Jason Carroll who's watching all of the action live in New York.

Good morning, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, John. You know, the cases that we've seen here in New York City have been milder cases. Health officials monitoring the situation very closely. New York's governor coming out with the statement, doing his best to try to ease concerns saying he does not believe any real danger lies ahead.


CARROLL (voice-over): After days of speculation and worry, health officials confirmed what many had feared.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: Today we can tell you that as we anticipated, the CDC has confirmed the diagnosis of swine flu in children whose samples we sent them.

CARROLL: Governor David Paterson put New York State on high alert to mobilize resources to deal with any future outbreaks. New York City health officials tested eight of the more than 100 students from Saint Francis Preparatory School who exhibited flu-like symptoms this past week with all eight tests coming back positive for swine flu.

Officials were quick to point out that none of the sick appear to have a serious case of the virus.

BLOOMBERG: Every case of illness we have reviewed and we've spoken with 130 families, has been mild and many of the students are already improving.

CARROLL: Officials expect the number of confirmed swine flu cases to rise as testing continues on the students. As a precaution, the school's administration has chosen to sanitize the entire school and remain closed for the next two days.

BROTHER LEONARD CONWAY, QUEENS, NEW YORK: Now that they're talking swine flu, we wouldn't want to spread it any further and having kids in small room areas like classrooms could spread it.

CARROLL: New York's mayor says some of the six students' family members have come down with flu-like symptoms as well, but also said they have no evidence of swine flu spreading beyond this cluster and tamped down fears of a city-wide outbreak.

BLOOMBERG: The city's public health Dramex surveillance system, which captures and analyzes 60,000 data points a day, has not shown evidence of a city-wide increase in flu-like illness.

CARROLL: Some of the students from the school just retained from a spring break trip to Mexico, but no link has been made between that trip and this outbreak.


CARROLL: And John, there have been several other suspected cases here in the city as well. Six children from a day care center in the Bronx were tested; five of those tests came back negative. One of them came back undetermined, but it's believed that that case is negative as well.

Also, two Manhattan families believe that their children might be - might have the virus as well. All of those tests came back negative as well - John.

ROBERTS: So, Jason, the mayor as we saw there is playing down any idea of a spread of this virus, but is the New York City school system taking any particular precautions just in case something were to pop up?

CARROLL: Other than just monitoring the situation just as closely as they can, looking for other students coming down with flu- like symptoms and what they're recommending, John, is that if any student or anyone else does come down with symptoms, the first thing you should do obviously, use common sense. You call your doctor, speak to your doctor, find out what would be the best course of action - John.

ROBERTS: Jason Carroll live for us this morning. Jason, thanks so much for that.

The virus now suspected of spreading across oceans. Let's take a look at the map of the world.

According to the "Associated Press," the first swine flu case has been confirmed in Spain. Cases in Israel and New Zealand not yet confirmed. Some health officials are warning that swine flu could wipe out tens of millions of people if it isn't stopped. CHO: A lot of people are waking up with a lot of questions this morning, John, about this. So what exactly are the symptoms of swine flu and how can you protect yourself and your family from getting it? Here's a checklist of things to look out for.

Fever, coughing, sore throat, body aches, headache, chill, fatigue, and in some cases diarrhea and vomiting, similar to a seasonal flu symptoms. Public health officials recommend that you stay home and avoid contact with other people for up to seven days. And as we just mentioned, if you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.

And how exactly does someone get the swine flu? A lot of people are still wondering that. Well, it spreads the same way the seasonal flu spreads, from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Sometimes people can become infected by touching something with the flu virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

And some are wondering is it safe to eat pork? Well, the World Health Organization says so far no evidence swine flu is transmitted through food.


DR. KEIJI FUKUDA, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WHO: Right now, we have no evidence to suggest that people are getting exposed or getting infected from exposure to pork or to pigs. And so, right now, we have zero evidence to suspect that exposure to meat leads to infection.


CHO: We, of course, are tapping into our global resources here at CNN this morning to bring you the very latest on this developing story, including our own Sanjay Gupta who is on the ground in Mexico City. He will be with us in the next couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, Mexico's health minister is confirming more than 1,600 cases of swine flu this morning in Mexico City, where some 20 million people live is virtually shut down this morning.

Our Ted Rowlands is there for us. Ted, what's the latest from where you are?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alina.

This is today in Mexico City a chance for officials to really get a feel for where this flu virus is going. Basically, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans are going to be going back to work today after the entire city was basically shut down by the federal government.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): The plaza outside Mexico City's metropolitan cathedral was virtually empty Sunday morning. The sign outside reads no baptisms, no confirmations and no mass until further notice. Members of the Mexican armed forces were handing out masks.

Carla Casas was scheduled to be confirmed at the 8:00 a.m. mass. She says a lot of people including herself are worried about getting sick.

CARLA CASAS, MEXICO CITY RESIDENT: If you are sick, maybe you die.

ROWLANDS: Mexican officials are fighting the spread of the potentially deadly virus with an aggressive campaign urging people to stay away from large groups and seek medical attention if sick. Sporting events are being played without crowds. Movie theaters and other public gathering points have been closed.

While there is definite concern on the streets here, there is no sign of widespread sickness, at least not yet. Outside this hospital, none of the people waiting to be seen that we talked to had flu symptoms. City officials say they have a handle on the situation and are able to treat any new cases. They also say those who have died waited too long to get help.

DR. ARMANDO AHUED, MEXICO CITY HEALTH SECRETARY (through translator): More than 80 percent were sent directly to intensive care. They had to be put on ventilators immediately because they already had advanced pneumonia.


ROWLANDS: The bottom line here, Alina, is that there are 1,300 people that were hospitalized in Mexico City, but the vast majority of them have been released from the hospital.

Today is a pivotal day because, today, when all of these people are now back at work, back in the streets after basically staying in their homes self-quarantine for the last few days, officials will be able to gauge whether or not they see a new crop of virus, of people getting the virus and coming to hospitals. If that happens, they say, especially in Mexico City, they plan to shut down the city even more, possibly affecting private businesses and the transit system including the subway.

So, big day here - Alina.

CHO: Ted Rowlands for us live in Mexico City.

Obviously, a couple of technical problems, but incredible to know. Especially since already 70 percent of bars and restaurants in Mexico City are shut down. So it could, you if it gets worse, they could, you know, shut down the city even further. You're talking about 20 million people in that city.

ROBERTS: And this happened so quickly. It was just last Wednesday that things really started, the ball really started to move. We'll see where we are now.

CHO: And I think that's what got a lot of people concerned and a lot of really basic questions on people's minds this morning. So, you know, a lot of people are waking up with those questions about swine flu. What do you need to do to protect yourself from getting this?

We have our own Sanjay Gupta on call for you. He is in Mexico City. He's also on Twitter right now answering your questions, so just follow us on Twitter at AMFix. Send in your questions and concerns. Sanjay will be joining us live from Mexico City in less than five minutes.

ROBERTS: New developments this morning in Chrysler's bid to avoid bankruptcy. The automaker clearing two huge hurdles by reaching concession agreements with the United Auto Workers and its Canadian workers over the weekend. Now Chrysler needs to strike a partnership deal with Fiat to qualify for $6 billion in government loans.

Right now, a nationwide manhunt for a University of Georgia marketing professor. Police say he shot three people over the weekend including his wife at a theater group reunion. George Zinkhan was last seen yesterday afternoon when he dropped off his children with a neighbor.

And over 100 swine flu deaths now confirmed in Mexico, and more cases surfacing here in America and around the world. As we said just a moment ago, the first confirmed case now in Spain according to the "Associated Press." In 20 minutes' time, we're going to check in with White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux and see how the Obama administration is handling its first major health crisis.

Ten minutes now after the hour. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


ROBERTS: And back to our developing story this morning, an outbreak of the deadly swine flu killing more people and now spreading across North America and possibly around the world as well. Mexico City, the epicenter of the outbreak and home to nearly 19 million people, it looked like a ghost town over the weekend. Markets, restaurants and movie theatres all closed and the people who were out covered their noses and mouths with surgical masks.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is live for us in Mexico City this morning. He's got his surgical mask as well, looking for answers as to where this all started and where it's all headed.

Good morning, Doc.


Yes, about four million of these masks have been passed out in this city. It's remarkable to see so many people with masks walking around.

There are some lessons to be learned. If Mexico City is the epicenter of this, the hospital behind me is sort of the place where a lot of this started. You wanted to get some answers and find out what happened to the patients.


GUPTA (voice-over): Two weeks ago, Mexico City, a young woman is rushed to the hospital.

DR. ALEJANDRO MACIAS, SENIOR ADVISER, FEDERAL MINISTRY OF HEALTH: She goes to the hospital. She doesn't feel well. She's febrile. She feels short of breath. She goes to the hospital.

In a very short time, she develops failure to take a good breath. People in our hospital had to put the patient in the machine.

GUPTA: A medical mystery. What no one could have known at the time, the patient had a brand new virus - H1N1, swine flu, and it was about to spread around the world. So we decided to fly to Mexico City to investigate.

(on camera): We have arrived in Mexico City. The plane ride was sort of unremarkable. A lot of people talking about the swine flu, somewhat concerned. But as soon as they got here, there was obviously something going on here.

Just take a look at all the people. A lot of people wearing masks. A lot of people have concerns. Adults and children alike, very concerned about the swine flu.

We're here in Mexico City because we want to go to the hospital where this all started to see if we might establish some clues as to where this is going.

(voice-over): And clues started to emerge. At first it was thought to be a late season flu, but something didn't make sense to us. It wasn't the very young and the elderly that were dying, it was people mainly between the ages of 20 and 50.

MACIAS: No doubt about it, this is terrible. I mean this is a new disease, a new virus. No people have defenses against that virus. That's not good. Not for Mexico, for the whole world.

GUPTA: And there was something else. It was very contagious. Swine flu is normally spread from pigs to humans, but here it can live anywhere and hand to mouth contact is the biggest concern. ATM machines, computers, all potentially holding the virus.

MACIAS: Most efficient way of prevention is your hands.

GUPTA: This doctor doesn't even bother wearing a mask and no one seems to understand why Mexico has been so hard hit. It is a mystery which we will investigate.


GUPTA: Now we're outside one of the largest public hospitals in Mexico City. This is the place where so many patients started to gather.

I can tell you this particular hospital now has these gates that are shut. They have armed guards. There was real concern about crowds. Police are circling around. A lot of patients coming to this hospital, crowds gathered outside. They were very concerned over the last couple of days.

Now, there is a lot of questions still that remain to be answered. One of them, John, I think it's interesting is that we have over 100 deaths here. That's the number of deaths but it's hard to figure out how many people had any kind of sickness at all, how many people even have mild sickness.

If that number is large, if that is thousands and thousands of patients, then the fatality rate from this particular virus might be much smaller than we think. And that's what we're trying to figure out. Where did it start? Where is it going? And how bad is it really down here, John?

ROBERTS: There's an awful lot of people jammed into a fairly small area there in Mexico City. So, I can just imagine what people at home are thinking as they're watching our coverage this morning. I've got a bit of a scratchy throat. I feel a little bit feverish. Do I have the swine flu?

What are the symptoms, doc? Break it down for us so people might know if they're sick or not.

GUPTA: Yes. It was worth pointing out that the vast majority of people watching your program right now, even if they have some of those symptoms are not going to have the swine flu. Statistically, they're just not going to have it. But there are some symptoms that overlap with flu overall. You know, you have the cold-like symptoms, the fever, the runny nose.

Fever, incidentally, is often high and is often early. So taking temperature maybe one of the first signs that something is starting to develop. Some of the things I noticed are a little bit different, though. Sudden onset of dizziness.

When I talked to these doctors, they all tell me that sudden onset of dizziness seems to be one of those symptoms. Also nausea and vomiting, which can sometimes develop with the flu but it appears to be so profound.

Some of the patients that came here first, John, before they had any idea what this was, they thought they had stomach viruses. They were treated for stomach viruses for a couple of weeks and they just weren't treated for the right thing and eventually some of those patients died. So they're starting to get a better grip of it and they're also starting to better define it. But the suddenness of it seems to be one of the key characteristics.

ROBERTS: We've got a couple of things happening here n Mexico City, 103 people have died. Here in the United States, we've got some 20 cases, but most of them are described, if not all of them described, as mild. What does that tell us?

GUPTA: Well, it's a little bit hard to say, and that's a part of this mystery that I've been trying to answer as well. It could just be that it's earlier in this whole disease process. So as the natural history sort of develops, we may see some mortalities, some fatalities in the United States as well.

But I think more likely, this is one of those things where you just, you probably have a lot of people who did have the swine flu and just didn't get that sick. They didn't go a hospital. They didn't report this to a doctor, so this 103 number is sort of the numerator over a much, much larger denominator. So it's got to be a relatively low fatality rate.

John, you and I talked about this in the past. Just for the sake of context, the flu that we typically think of, the regular flu kills about 36,000 Americans every year in the United States. That's an average number, but that gives you a little bit of context. Right now, we're talking about 103 late season obviously, but still 103 overall, John.

ROBERTS: And what about treatment, Doc? You know, the government says it's got 50 million doses of Tamiflu and Relenza ready to go in its emergency stockpile, should have been necessary. I think they're going to release some 12 million doses of that. But I've read some recent articles that suggest that even the normal winter flu is beginning to become resistant to Tamiflu. So is there anything that can really treat this disease?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's very interesting. So when you talk about bacterial infections, those are the ones that can be treated with antibiotics. When you're talking about viral infections, antibiotics have no effect whatsoever and Tamiflu is one of the antivirals. They don't work the same way. They're not actually killing the virus. They're just sort of shortening the duration and shortening the severity overall of the viral course.

So, you know, a lot of the treatment for this is what we call symptomatic treatment. So patients come to the hospital hopefully early. They need to be on breathing machines, systematic treatment, get IV fluids. Those are the things that help as long as the patient gets treated early.

ROBERTS: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, for us live from Mexico City this morning. Doc, thanks so much. We'll check back with you as the morning goes on.

By the way, Sanjay is going to be twittering all morning long from Mexico City, answering your questions about swine flu and how to protect yourself. Just follow us at and send in your questions and concerns - Alina.

CHO: All right, John, a lot of other news to get to.

Big U.S. banks suddenly reporting profits. What's going on? Are they really getting healthy?

Ahead, we begin the countdown to Barack Obama's 100th day in office with a "Memo to the President." Can billions in bank TARP money bailout millions of struggling Americans?

And violent thunderstorms spinning off tornadoes in the Midwest. The damage that's been done, the challenge that lies ahead today.

It's 20 minutes after the hour. We're coming right back.


CHO: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning on this Monday morning. All this week, we're counting down to the first 100 days of the Obama White House with our special series "Memo to the President." Today an in-depth look at the president's bailout program. Christine Romans is here with a look at that. So, is it working? I mean listen, over the weekend, we saw this article in "The New York Times" saying Wall Street pay could get back to normal this year. So what's going on? Is this a good sign?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's a really good question. Is it a good sign?

Well, it shows you that they think that this year is going to be maybe better for them. But look, the banks are making profits, right? But are they healthy? And why aren't they lending more money to you and me?

The challenge for this president is to prevent waste and fraud, get the banks healthy and maybe hold back the populist outrage that some told me may be overshadowing those efforts.


ROMANS (voice-over): Mr. President, your challenge - to heal the banks, fix the economy, keeping it all transparent and accountable. Good luck.

NEIL BAROFSKY, BAILOUT CZAR: Never so much money has been pushed out in such a short period of time.

ROMANS: Neil Barofsky is the bailout czar, tracking the billions spent on the banks that made terrible bets.

BAROFSKY: We're now charged with overseeing 12 separate programs, involving by our calculation up to $3 trillion.

ROMANS: Billions for bad assets to boost lending for student loans and cars, for small businesses and homeowners. But at the core, a belief held by two administrations, America can't recover without healthy banks. A belief not shared by many Americans outraged by executive bonuses, lavish corporate jets and retreats, and their own mounting bills.

PROFESSOR ELIZABETH WARREN, CHAIRWOMAN, CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT PANEL FOR TARP: People are angry that even if they have consistently paid their bills on time and never missed a payment, their TARP assisted banks are unilaterally raising their interest rates or slashing their credit lines.

ROMANS: TARP, of course, is the much maligned Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bank rescue. But economist John Ryding says that anger against TARP is holding back the recovery.

JOHN RYDING, RDQ ECONOMICS: That whole populist issue is providing a roadblock to the plan to work more effectively.

ROMANS: Now, banks are reporting profits, sort of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is the oxymoron out there. They're making money because we gave them money, but they also want them to make money to pay us back. ROMANS: So, Mr. President, is the bank bailout working?

KENNETH ROGOFF, HARVARD ECONOMIST: I'd say it's a modest success but it's not enough.

ROMANS: Kenneth Rogoff is among those economists who believe if anything it may take more tax dollars.

ROGOFF: We may end up spending more. The recession may end up lasting longer.


ROMANS: A historic amount of work has already been done by this administration and there's more work to do. Two points here - is the financial rescue as crafted by this administration working? So far, there is stability in the financial system. And of the trillions moving into the economy, how much is being wasted and pilfered and vulnerable to fraud?

Well, the bailout czar, Neil Barofsky, just last week revealed there are 20 criminal investigation and six audits right now into the bailouts. So, there's a lot of written here. So a lot of money moving out and a lot of opportunity for waste management (ph).

CHO: And a lot of unanswered questions. And I like to rely, are the banks making profits? Well, sort of?

ROMANS: With a big asterisk. They wouldn't be making profits if we didn't save them in the first place. So keep that in mind.

ROBERTS: And guess who's joining us in our 8:00 hour on the Most News in the Morning.

CHO: Do tell.

ROBERTS: Neil Barofsky.

ROMANS: Oh, love it. That's great.

ROBERTS: So we'll be able to talk to him one on one about what's going on with the TARP money.

ROMANS: All right.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Christine.

We're following all the latest developments in the deadly swine flu outbreak for you this morning. Some doctors are saying it looks like the beginning of a pandemic that has the potential to kill millions of people around the world. How can you protect yourself? We'll ask an expert who studies these diseases and how they spread just ahead.

And just in this morning, the Taliban says their peace deal with Pakistan is off. Well, the country's president is promising their nukes are still safe. A full report on that coming up.

Twenty-seven and a half minutes after the hour.


CHO: Thirty minutes after the hour.

Health officials around the world are trying to contain the outbreak of a deadly new flu this morning. It's called swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control racing to keep travelers returning from areas with confirmed swine flu cases safe. The agency will soon be passing out yellow cards to people in airports. Those cards will have some key information about the illness and symptoms to watch out for.

This morning, the Catholic high school at the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak in Queens, New York is closed both today and tomorrow. Right now, a 50-person cleaning crew is scrubbing the entire building from top to bottom. The school, where eight kids tested positive for the deadly virus, will remain closed until Wednesday.

The European Union calling for an emergency meeting of Europe's health ministers as concerns about the deadly strain grow. Speaking in Athens, the president of the European Commission said it's too soon to speculate on the situation, but, of course, they are watching the situation very closely.

As President Obama approaches 100 days in office, he's facing his first public health emergency, but still some major vacancies in the White House health team, including a permanent head of the CDC and no surgeon general.

White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux in the house with us this morning.

Hey, Suzanne, very quickly, first, you were in Mexico City with the president recently.


CHO: The man who gave him a museum tour died the next day of flu-like symptoms. At this point, are there any concerns that the president may be ill at all?

MALVEAUX: You know, hearing that news really is very alarmist, when you think about it. But, yes, I was traveling with the president, and he did, he had a cold, he had a cough, he was sniffing everything. We notice everything that he does, obviously. So we asked about it.

Certainly, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, says look, there is no danger, his health was never in any danger, despite the fact that you have this tour guide who did die the following day, that he is absolutely fine, that he is in good health, he's in good shape, there's no sign of this flu. Obviously, you know, we traveled in a bubble and - but he's exposed to people. And so, you know, obviously, that was a concern and a question.

But the administration is really moving faster to fill some of those vacant slots - the CDC, the surgeon general. There's a greater motivation to move quickly on this.

As for the health and human services secretary ,Kathleen Sebelius, that has been held up in Congress. It's a confirmation process. She could be confirmed as early as tomorrow. And, as you know, President Obama has had a tough time filling that seat. His first pick was former Senate leader Tom Daschle.

CHO: Yes, and I mean, of course, we wouldn't be talking about this if we didn't have this in the news right now. But a lot of key posts not filled yet, 18 or 19 by our count, including the head of the CDC, the head of the surgeon general. I mean, any indication of how quickly we might be hearing some names?

MALVEAUX: I think - I think there's greater motivation now to move quickly on this. But you might recall, too, that it was, you know, we've been dealing with this financial crisis and the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, he didn't have a lot of his folks in place when we were dealing with that. They were able to jump on that.

They say, look, you know, we've got an acting director. We have people that are at least temporarily in place so we can deal with this. We've declared an emergency, a health emergency. We're focused on this. We're going to release some flu medications, that type of thing.


MALVEAUX: Twenty-five percent of their stock. So they are doing things actively in response to this.

CHO: The president monitoring it all very closely.

Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much. Good to see you.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Alina.

CHO: And join us this Wednesday, President Obama's 100th day in office, for the "CNN NATIONAL REPORT CARD." You'll get to grade the president along with The Best Political Team on TV. You will get to grade him, by the way.

Then at 8:00, the president will let us know how he thinks he's doing during a live presidential news conference. The CNN primetime event takes off at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

ROBERTS: Well, right now, the world is hoping for the best, but planning for the worst as the deadly swine flu spreads across borders and possibly across oceans as well. There are now 20 confirmed cases of swine flu here in the United States, including eight students in Queens, New York. Health officials now saying the strain of the virus they have is a match.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we know about this virus is it looks to be the same virus as is causing the situation in Mexico. And given the reports out of Mexico, I would expect that, over time, we're going see more severe disease in this country.


ROBERTS: Many health experts say if you were going to have a pandemic, this is how it would start.

Joining us now is Dr. Martin Blaser. He's the chairman of the NYU Department of Medicine here in New York. He was also president of the Infectious Disease Society of America. That's his specialty.

Good morning to you, Doctor.


ROBERTS: So how far do you expect this is going to spread? How bad do you think it might become based on your experience with this type of virus?

BLASER: Well, with influenza, every year. As we know, influenza kills people. But in usual years, it's maybe one person out of 1,000, but when a new virus comes in, it's usually much more dangerous. We don't yet know how dangerous this one is going to be.

ROBERTS: Did you have - is there any indication as to how it's going to act because as these outbreaks start, they can go a number of different directions, can't they?

BLASER: Yes. And this one's very unusual because it's starting as the weather is getting warm. That's very unusual. It's bad news because it's breaking the rules. This virus is breaking the rules. It's good news because summer is coming and that usually dampens things down. So it may give us a little more time to prepare.

CHO: How concerned are you that there's no actual vaccine to treat swine flu? And also, what we're seeing is because it's being transmitted human to human, viruses like this tend to mutate and become harder to treat, right?

BLASER: Yes. So that's the problem with influenza is that it's always changing. That's why you need a new vaccine every year. So now we have a brand new strain, we have to really work fast to put out a new vaccine for this. Not in the usual period of time, but in a much compressed period of time. And I believe that...

CHO: Can that happen quickly?

BLASER: It can happen quickly. And, again, I think the summer is going to help us, because that kind of dampens down flu activity. I'm expecting that it will really come back in force in the fall and the winter. And I hope we'll be ready then.

ROBERTS: All this talk about potential pandemic and vaccines, a couple of interesting benchmarks that we should probably look at. 1976, when it was thought that the swine flu could potentially cause a pandemic, it didn't. It was a milder version than the 1918 flu, which was believed to be a combination of avian and swine, maybe more avian.

But in 1976, there was this enormous vaccination program that was undertaken by the government. It led to its own problems. People developed temporary paralysis syndrome, Guillain-Barre syndrome.

So, when we talk about pandemic, when we talk about vaccinations, do we know if this going to be '76 or '18 and should we begin a vaccination program given the problems of the past?

BLASER: Well, by the time a vaccine is ready, we'll have a lot more information than we have now. 1976 was an isolated event in one place. We already have a big outbreak in Mexico. We've got cases in five states in the United States already, all across the country, cases in Canada, maybe cases in New Zealand. This is - this is the beginning of an epidemic. What we don't know is whether it's going to be mild or severe.

ROBERTS: Yes, 103 deaths in Mexico City. So far, none here. Twenty cases, most, if not all, described as mild. Do you expect, though, that as this virus spreads, we will see deaths here? As you pointed out, we see deaths every year from a typical winter flu.

BLASER: Yes. It depends on how much it spreads. If there are just a hundred cases, there may not be any. If there are a thousand, probably some. If there are a few thousands, there will be some.

ROBERTS: All right. Dr. Martin Blaser, it's great to see you this morning. Thanks for coming in to help explain all of this for us.

BLASER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it.

New this morning, a warning from U.S. health officials to avoid raw alfalfa sprouts until further notice. They've been linked to salmonella in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia.

Coast Guard forces from Yemen have freed one of their own oil tankers that was captured on Sunday by Somali pirates. Two pirates were reportedly killed in the clash, 11 others were arrested.

Several major airlines are waiving fees for travelers who are changing their reservations to visit Mexico because of the swine flu crisis. Ahead, new concerns this morning about the impact the outbreak could have on the economy.

It's coming up now on 39 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 41 minutes after the hour. Let's fast forward to the stories that will be making news later on today.

More bad weather expected in the Midwest after a weekend of intense storms and even tornadoes. Heavy rain and thunderstorms are triggering flooding from Oklahoma to Wisconsin. Our weather experts in the CNN weather center will be closely monitoring these storms for you all day long.

Vice President Joe Biden will be in Chicago today talking up the recovery acts saying it's creating jobs. At 11:15 a.m. Eastern, he'll make remarks at Serious Materials, a factory that was able to rehire 250 employees, thanks to recovery act spending. And we're keeping an eye on reports out of South Korea saying that Kim Jong-Il may be grooming his third son to be his successor. South Korea's Yonhap news agency has reported that Kim Jong-Un has been assigned to the nation's - the country's National Defense Commission. And that could be indicative of a greater role for him in the future.

And that's what's going to be making news throughout the day.

CHO: And we have this just in to CNN this morning. A Taliban peace deal with Pakistan's government is off. Pakistan's president also says his country's nuclear arsenal is still safe.

Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour with us to break it all down for us.

So as John pointed out a moment ago, the Taliban broke off a peace deal.

ROBERTS: What a surprise.

CHO: Surprise, surprise.

So, how serious should we be taking this? And what does this say about the stability in the region right now, Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, very seriously. Although, it's interesting because a big war of words has broken out between the U.S. and Pakistani officials.

Pakistan reacting quite angrily at messages coming from U.S. officials talking about they shouldn't surrender territory, they should not be ceding territory to the militants. And Pakistani officials from the prime minister and the head of the army are saying don't panic, all this talk is sending panic.

But the reality is that the Taliban were getting very strong. They were marching further into various territories. We were reporting last weekend about how it was about 60 kilometers from Islamabad. And now, it looks like the Pakistani military is trying to fight back. Overnight, some militants were killed as they started firing with artillery. World leaders are saying they are concern about the Talibanization of Pakistan.

CHO: Well, let's talk about this. Because bottom line is that the U.S. is quick to say Pakistan is a key ally in the war on terror, but many others point out that Pakistan is a friend in quotes.

What is the status of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship given that there's a new government in place?

AMANPOUR: Well, it's very close. We've had chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, along of course with the U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, and others visiting Pakistan several times.

Today, of course, the British prime minister is in Afghanistan and Pakistan really highlighting the closeness of the relationship. And also, the importance of how they're attaching the spread of terrorism and trying to quell terrorism not just in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan.

So that's their central fight on the spread of Taliban and al Qaeda. So it's a very big deal for them. And the alliance is strong, but it's under very big threat at the moment.

CHO: Alliance is strong and it's a key relationship that we need to guard closely.

Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent.

Christiane, thanks.

ROBERTS: Swine flu already affecting travel plans around the world. People with any flu-like symptoms are being told to stay home. You may be wondering whether it's a good idea to go anywhere right now. We'll tell you how the airlines are trying to keep the deadly virus grounded, and how they're actually helping some people reschedule for free.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Twitter all morning long, helping you better understand swine flu, how it spreads and how you can protect yourself.

Send your questions to Sanjay at

It's coming up now 45 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Just in to CNN this morning: The health commissioner of the European Union is this morning warning Europeans to avoid nonessential travel to both Mexico and the United States. The swine flu forcing some changes in airline industry this morning.

Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business."

And this flu outbreak has the potential to create a huge hit on the airlines... CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right.

ROBERTS: ... and the economy.

ROMANS: And for the economy.

Look, at a time when the global economy is already reeling and shrinking, now you throw on a global health scare. Look at the stocks overseas, John. Twelve percent this morning. It's pretty much anything that has to do with the travel and leisure sector, airlines. All those stocks are down. And actually, stocks broadly are expected to be down today because people are so concerned about this.

Now what's happening here in terms of the air travel, you're already seeing some big changes. Keep in mind that from this country to Mexico every week, there are 320,000 seats fly there. So this affects a lot of people who think they might be traveling. Airlines are waiving their fees for travel to Mexico. Let me tell you some of them.

American Airlines, it's allowing customers to change their flights without penalty if they're flying to Mexico through May 6th. Continental, same timeframe. Travelers there have the option of rescheduling or rerouting their travel. Delta, waiving the change fees through May 4th. United Airlines and U.S. Airlines allowing changes to your flights booked to the end of this month, April.

But keep in mind - I mean, at a time when the global economy is already quite weak, here you have business travel, nonessential travel. Clearly, a lot of people are going to be deciding what they want to do - whether they want to be on an airplane right now, whether they want to be doing business that they might be able to postpone until next week.

CHO: And bottom line, any time you're waiving fees, you're losing dollars.

ROMANS: Yes. That's absolutely right. So, it will be...


ROBERTS: What's next for the economy - snakes, flaming hair?

ROMANS: I know. Can you believe that? This weekend, as this is all developing on Sunday, really as it became clear, the extent of this, it was like - this is a very critical time for the economy around the world. You put something like this, and even the risk of something like this. You know, it's a big challenge for policy makers, clearly.

ROBERTS: Christine, thanks for that.


CHO: We're tracking the latest developments on the swine flu outbreak in this country. Already, deadly south of the border. Now, eight students infected in Queens, New York. All minor cases, thankfully. Those symptoms seem to be spreading to their families now. We're going to have the latest as the biggest city in America tries to cope with this.

And violent thunderstorms spinning off tornadoes in the Midwest, the damage that's been done. The challenge that lies ahead today.

Rob is next with the forecast.

Forty-nine minutes after the hour.


CHO: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Violent thunderstorms triggered at least three tornados in Kansas over the weekend. Two people camping along a lake near Wichita got hurt last night, when their camper flipped over.

And two tornadoes Saturday night damaged some homes and sent race fence running from the Kansas speedway.

Can you imagine being there for that?

Fifty-two minutes after the hour.

Rob Marciano watching it all for us.


ROBERTS: They came back from spring break with the swine flu. What they're doing in a New York City prep school to control that outbreak now.

And isolation, quarantine and stopping the spread of swine flu. An infected family in Texas told by health officials to stay home indefinitely. Well, what if they don't?

It's 55 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

More now on our developing story this morning. Swine flu. The outbreak is alarming.

And after health officials drew blood from the entire family of an infected student in Texas, the family says it was ordered to stay inside and away from the public. Which brings up new questions about isolation and quarantine. What's the difference? And can you really force people to comply?

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

So what is the difference, and how enforceable is it by law, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, isolation is when you tell a sick person to stay in their home. Quarantine is when you tell well people, people who are healthy nearby, "Hey, you need to stay isolated as well."

So, isolation for sick people, quarantine is for well-people. There have been no mandated - legally mandated isolations or quarantines in the United States yet.

What's happening in Texas, where there are two confirmed cases is that public health officials have told folks who have swine flu and their families, please try to stay in your home as much as possible. They are telling them you can drive around in your car, or you can go in your yard, but really, we don't want you mingling with other people.

Now the school we just showed, the students go to this school. This school has been canceled, and actually, all the schools in the school district have now been canceled, none of those kids have school, and adults and kids who live in this area are being told please don't have big public gatherings, save that for another time - John.

ROBERTS: Elizabeth Cohen for us this morning, straightening that out.

Elizabeth, thanks so much for that.