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Obama urges calm on swine flu

From NBC's Athena Jones

President Obama used a speech to the 146th annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences to tell Americans that a potential swine flu epidemic was "not a cause for alarm."

He said the issue demonstrated the need for a renewed emphasis on scientific research and education -- both high priorities for his agenda. "If there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it's today," he said. "We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States, and this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm."

Video: Obama addresses the swine flu outbreak at the National Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Mexico has reported over a thousand suspected cases of swine flu, an influenza virus that originated in pigs. There have been some 20 confirmed cases in the United States.

The president said that the Department of Health and Human Services had declared a public health emergency as a precautionary tool to make sure enough resources were available to respond effectively; that he was getting regular updates on the situation; and that the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano would be offering regular updates to the public.

"One thing is clear -- our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community," he said.

Repeating a common theme in his address, Obama argued the country was falling behind the rest of the world when it came to supporting scientific research and educating students in science and math. And he reiterated his commitment to depoliticizing research.

The nearly 40-minute speech also touched on health-care reform and clean energy, announcing funding for an organization called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy to conduct research in the field and repeating his commitment to caps on carbon emissions.

Obama also announced plans to participate in a campaign to encourage students to consider careers in science, mathematics, and engineering. And he said the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation would be launching a joint initiative to more students to pursue these careers.