WHO Raises Pandemic Swine Flu Alert Level to Phase 5


swine-flu5The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic alert for swine flu to the second highest level, meaning that it believes a global outbreak of the disease is imminent. WHO says the phase 5 alert means there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up. WHO has confirmed human cases of swine flu in Mexico, the United States, Canada, Britain, Israel, New Zealand and Spain. Mexico and the U.S. have reported deaths.WHO Director-General Margaret Chan made the decision Wednesday to raise the alert level from phase 4 – signifying transmission in only one country – after reviewing the latest scientific evidence on the outbreak.

As fear and uncertainty about the disease ricochetes around the globe, nations have taken all sorts of precautions, some more useful than others.

Britain closed a school after a 12-year-old girl was found to have the disease. Egypt slaughtered all its pigs and the central African nation of Gabon became the latest nation to ban pork imports, despite assurances that swine flu was not related to eating pork.

Cuba eased its flight ban, deciding just to block flights coming in from Mexico. And Asian nations greeted returning airport travelers with teams of medical workers and carts of disinfectants, eager to keep swine flu from infecting their continent.

In Mexico City, the epicenter of the epidemic, the mayor said Wednesday the outbreak seemed to be stabilizing and he was considering easing the citywide shutdown that closed schools, restaurants, concert halls and sports arenas.

Swine flu is suspected of killing more than 150 people in Mexico and sickening over 2,400 there.

Dr. Richard Besser, the acting chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said 91 cases have now been confirmed in 10 states, and health officials there reported today that a 23-month-old Mexican boy had died in Texas from the disease.

Across Europe, Germany confirmed three swine flu cases and Austria one, while the number of confirmed cases rose to five in Britain and ten in Spain.

WHO conducted a scientific review today to determine exactly what is known about how the disease spreads, how it affects human health and how it can be treated.

Dr. Nikki Shindo, a WHO flu expert, said the review would focus on the large trove of data coming from Mexico and from a school in New York City that has been hard-hit by the outbreak.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said health officials were ordering extra medicine and “several million more” face masks to deal with the virus.

British media reports, citing an unidentified European surgical mask manufacturer, said the U.K. was seeking 32 million masks to protect its health workers from a possible pandemic.

“We’ve decided to build stocks of anti-virals, from 35 million to 50 million,” Brown said, adding that the government had put in enhanced airport checks and was going to mail swine flu information leaflets to every household in Britain.

In addition to a couple in Scotland who got swine flu on their Mexican honeymoon, new British cases included a 12-year-old girl in the southwest English town of Torbay. Brown said her school had been closed as a precaution.

He said the other two cases were adults in London and in Birmingham. All three had visited Mexico, were receiving anti-viral drugs and were responding well to treatment, Brown said.

The U.S., the European Union and other countries have discouraged nonessential travel to Mexico. Cuba suspended all regular and charter flights from Mexico to the island but was still allowing airlines to return travelers to Mexico.

{AP/News Agencies/Matzav.com Newscenter}