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White House Enlists Elmo in Anti-Flu Campaign

Federal health officials are turning to a high-pitched but authoritative voice with the younger set in the effort to slow the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

Sesame Street's Elmo appears in a new public service campaign. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Education worked with Sesame Workshop on the project.

The announcements feature Elmo and his friend Gordon emphasizing hygiene rules and health tips aimed at preventing the disease. Elmo reminds children to sneeze into their arms and to avoid touching their faces. Federal health officials hope young children will be exposed to the Sesame Street message and not swine flu germs. The ads can be seen at (One of them can be seen above.)

The announcements will also be distributed to TV stations nationwide.

A White House news release quotes Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as saying, "Younger children and their parents are some of the people most at risk from the new H1N1 flu virus and with schools starting back up again and the weather starting to get colder, we need to do everything we can to get these important messages about how to prevent the spread of the flu out there."

Experts tracking the pandemic have warned that infections are 20 times more common in the 5 to 24-year-old demographic than in elderly people.

Senior health officials are briefing President Obama this afternoon on the latest efforts to prepare for the virus. A White House task force has predicted up to half the population could catch the virus. Special Report: H1N1

Peter Maer is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.
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