Deconstructing the Swine Flu: Causes for Concern and Calm

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," April 27, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, the latest breaking news on the swine flu outbreak. Then an embarrassing, awkward moment for President Obama caught on tape. The president's critics have hammered him for relying too much on a teleprompter. This will only make things worse -- much worse. We'll show you the tape.

Plus: Thanks, but no thanks. The Notre Dame commencement controversy explodes. A powerful, well-known woman tells Notre Dame she does not want to be honored at the school's commencement, and it's all because President Obama is speaking. We're going to tell you who it is.

And did the accused Craigslist killer also target men? A man is speaking out tonight, giving the inside story about some stunning e-mails he says he exchanged with medical student Philip Markoff. You will hear the man in his own words.

But first, the deadly flu. Where is it, and who is going to get it? Now, here's what we know. Mexico City is ground zero for the swine flu outbreak. But guess what? It is already here -- 11 confirmed cases in California, but California state health officials warn this is only the beginning. That number is growing. A married couple in Kansas has been infected, the man returning recently from a trip to Mexico. Six confirmed cases in Texas. Three of the cases are students at a high school near San Antonio. One confirmed case in Ohio, a 9-year-old boy who just returned home from a trip with his family to Mexico.

And there is more, at least 28 confirmed cases in New York City, most of them connected to a private school in Queens. Some students say they had returned from Mexico.

Also tonight, reports of a staffer at Ernst and Young in Times Square confirmed to be infected with the flu. But this has only been what has been confirmed. New Jersey health officials say they have identified five probable cases of swine flu in people who recently traveled to Mexico and California.

The CDC taking every necessary precaution.


DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency. This is in recognition that this is a serious event and we are taking it seriously and acting aggressively.


VAN SUSTEREN: President Obama also speaking on the outbreak.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it's not a cause for alarm.


VAN SUSTEREN: Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano trying to stay ahead of the outbreak.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We do not yet know how widespread this flu will be within the United States, so we continue to move aggressively to prepare.


VAN SUSTEREN: The outbreak is going global, confirmed cases in Canada, Spain and Britain, possible cases in several other countries. Well, who is next? What is the risk this will spiral out of control? And will more people end up dying?

Joining us live is Dr. Leigh Vinocur, ER doctor from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Good evening, Doctor. And let me just start with a 1 to 10 scale first, 10 being very terrifying and a very serious problem. Where are we on this 1 to 10 scale on this swine flu?

DR. LEIGH VINOCUR, UNIV. OF MARYLAND SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Well, I think, you know, most officials are saying we shouldn't be terrified and alarmed, but we certainly should be concerned. So I don't know, between 5 and 6. At least take it seriously. And think about it. It has all of the makings of a pandemic.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is so bad about this one? People get the flu all the time, but we're hearing about people actually dying from this.

VINOCUR: Well, people die from the flu, too, Greta. But this flu is very interesting. And the reason I said it has the makings of a pandemic is because it's a brand-new virus. It's a combination of the bird flu, it's a combination of the human influenza seasonal virus and the swine flu, and we've never seen it before. So when you've never seen a virus, you have a new introduction, you have a large population that's susceptible.

And it is severe in Mexico. Officials still are not exactly sure why it's been more severe in Mexico than it's been in the United States, but the CDC is afraid that as cases progress in the United States, we'll see people that'll have more severe disease and be sicker.

And the third thing is that it transmits so easily. I mean, everyone worried about the bird flu epidemic and pandemic, but it never really panned out because it doesn't go from human to human easily. This one is like the regular flu.

VAN SUSTEREN: How -- how...

VINOCUR: It's very easy.

VAN SUSTEREN: How easy is it to transfer? I mean, is it walking past someone at an airport or at Disney World, or I mean...


VINOCUR: If they cough when you're walking past them, or if they blow their nose and they just grabbed the door handle, it transmits almost as easy as the human influenza virus. So that's what officials are telling people, you know, cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze. If you do feel sick, don't go out in public. You know, airplanes recirculate the air, so it's easy to spread between humans.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it so easy, though, like, everyone goes to the gas station and touches the gas nozzles, people open car doors, people open doorknobs? Are we talking -- can it be transferred that easily, sort of, like -- I mean, everyone's sort of conscious of a sneeze or a cough, but people who don't pay attention put their hands on the rests on the airplane. I mean, how easy is this?

VINOCUR: It is. You know, during the season of our regular seasonal flu, people pick it up and they don't really recall anyone coughing in their face. And what happens is people do cough, and then they touch something and then somebody else comes along and touches that door handle or pushes button number one, which everybody pushes on the elevator. Then you touch your eyes. Then you touch your nose. Then you get something to eat without washing your hands. And that's how you catch the flu, and that's how this swine flu is now being transmitted.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you're an ER doctor. People come in sick all the time. You're probably going to see one with swine flu. How come you don't get it? I mean, why are so many doctors not getting it?

VINOCUR: Well, you know, so far, we haven't seen that many doctors getting it. We don't know, but during the flu season, one of the recommendations is that doctors get a flu shot because we do get it. And people do cough in your face. You know, Open your mouth, say "Ah," use a tongue depressor. I can't tell you how many times people cough in my face.

But right now, you know, we're not seeing -- I have been talking to colleagues around the country, and in places like in New York, where there are a lot of cases, 300 people are coming into the ER complaining of colds and coughs. It's not flu season now, so it's less confusing. If it was in the middle of our flu season, it would be even more confusing.

But people have allergies. But that's why I think health departments are saying unless you're very sick -- meaning you have trouble breathing, you notice that your lips are blue -- those are signs that you're having a very serious reaction. Then you need to go to the hospital. But if you just feel achey and tired, go home, get some rest, try to not be around people, take, you know, Motrin and Tylenol and see how you do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Doctor, thank you.

VINOCUR: My pleasure.

VAN SUSTEREN: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been on the hot seat for recent gaffes, but now the big test, swine flu. Is she ready? Former senator Rick Santorum joins us. Good evening, Senator. She's had the...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... gaffes, the PR gaffes we've talked about. Now the real test. She says we shouldn't close our borders in Mexico. What should she do? How is she doing?

SANTORUM: Well, actually, I think the entire administration is actually doing a pretty good job. I think they have done the right things in releasing the Tamiflu and Relenza, which is, you know, important to have out and pre-positioned just in case we do have that. They're saying not to panic. They're giving people practical instructions on what to do. They're not overreacting by closing the border.

I -- you know, I would -- I would actually give the administration very, very high marks. Excuse me. My prompter's not keeping up. That was a joke. And so they -- you know, they've done a good job. Really, they have.

VAN SUSTEREN: And your joke (INAUDIBLE) I know the joke -- that's the President Obama teleprompter joke.

SANTORUM: Right. Yes. I'm sorry about that.

VAN SUSTEREN: I did catch that one. All right.


VAN SUSTEREN: What -- The World Health Organization, though -- I'm looking at the numbers -- has enough antiviral for five million. Now, five million's a lot, but we've got about 300 million here just in the United States. I don't know how many millions we have in New York City. Are we - - I mean, I don't want to be an alarmist, but if you get sick, you want something to fix this.

SANTORUM: Well, no, we have 50 million courses and that came from -- when I was in the Senate a few years ago, we had the bird flu scare, and President Bush went for it and said, Look, we are going to stockpile anti- viral medications so if we, in fact, get this avian flu outbreak, we're going to have enough courses -- when I say course, I don't mean doses. I don't mean, you know, one pill. Talking about a course for someone to take over the -- over the life of -- of -- of -- you know, of being treated. So we have 50 million courses. They're releasing a quarter of them right now. I think that's ample, given what we know.

You know, if we have a pandemic, are we going to have enough? Who knows? But we certainly are in very, very good shape at this point, I would say.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, do you have some advice for me? Where do we draw the line between being overly alarmist and informing the public to be very careful? I mean, wash your hands a lot, don't touch that ATM machine and then touch your eye and your nose and everything else. I mean, where do we draw -- I mean, what's the advice for the media on covering this one?

SANTORUM: Well, the advice to the media is to provide all the information that is out there. This is -- this is all going to be -- you're going to see it. You're going to see it come around. You're going to see the reports from the hospitals. You're going to see the reports from the CDC. And simply cover everything. Don't hype it. You won't need to. If this thing explodes, trust me, you're not going to need to hype it at all. And if it doesn't, it's going to be a story that's going to be gone in a week or two, and everyone will say, Wow, there's another -- you know, another over-hyped story because we're in the age of media, and let's hope that that's the case. But this story will pan out with the facts, and just keep feeding them to the public.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Secretary Napolitano -- should she stay? Should she go? How's she doing? Because she got a lot of heat last week.

SANTORUM: Well, she should have gotten a lot of heat. I mean, you know, the fact of the matter is, we haven't had one single Iraqi or Afghani war veteran commit any crimes against this country. In fact, the crime rate for the returning veterans is lower than the general public, in fact, substantially lower than the general public. And for her to -- you know, to say, you know, I apologize if this offends anybody was a really bad thing.

This is a great opportunity for her. This is a chance for her to change public perception of her, to go out there and handle this, you know, maturely and confidently. I wouldn't say, looking at her press conference, that she was, you know, hitting all cylinders. I think she looked a little bit of a deer in the headlights. But so far, she hasn't made any mistakes. This is a chance for her to redeem herself.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

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