President Obama on Saturday declared 2009 H1N1 influenza a national emergency, according to Reuters. The statement came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the H1N1 influenza outbreak has become widespread in 46 of the 50 states.

The declaration, made as a precaution, will by allow the waiver of certain requirements of Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health insurance programs thereby making it easier for medical facilities to handle a surge in flu patients.

Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said "It's really more a continuation of our preparedness steps.” Further spread of the illness is expected as the increased number of H1N1 cases is occurring much earlier than conventional flu season.

The White House statement said the declaration was intended to prepare the country in case of "a rapid increase in illness that may overburden health care resources." The move was similar to previous health emergency actions taken prior to hurricanes hitting coastal areas. "It's important to note that this is a proactive measure -- not a response to a new development," an administration official said.

To date, the H1N1 influenza has hit young adults and children the hardest, while seasonal flu normally is more dangerous for people over age 65.

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Source: Reuters