World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Margaret Chan said that all countries should be prepared to respond to a pandemic as she raised the swine flu alert to level 5 on the WHO's six-point scale. The spread of the virus shows no sign of slowing.
AFP - The World Health Organisation raised its flu alert Wednesday signalling a swine flu pandemic is "imminent" as a toddler in the United States became the first to die of the disease outside Mexico.
"All countries should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans," WHO chief Margaret Chan said as she raised the alert to five on a scale of six following WHO health expert talks in Geneva.
Phase five, one step short of a full pandemic, is characterised as a "strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalise ... the planned mitigation measures is short," according to the WHO's global emergency planning.
The global spread of the virus has heightened calls for tougher travel restrictions as a Mexican toddler died in Texas after coming across the border with his family to visit relatives three weeks earlier, US officials said.
The disease is believed to have killed 159 people in Mexico. Seven of the deaths have been confirmed by tests carried out with the help of the WHO.
US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the US government, which has already declared a public health emergency, was prepared to cope with a "full-fledged pandemic" of swine flu if necessary.
"We have been preparing all along as if this is going to be stage six," she told reporters.
"Our efforts have been to stay ahead of whatever number WHO assigns. And therefore, our preparations are for a situation in which this does become a full-fledged pandemic," Napolitano said.
"We are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best."
Mexico's government kept the country's public venues locked down Wednesday as it grappled with the new strain of flu.
The measures, concentrated in Mexico City but also felt in many places across the country where people might gather, came as tourist numbers dwindled and jitters increased worldwide over the disease.
Mexico nearly doubled its number of confirmed swine flu cases to 49, including seven deaths from the virus. Tests on more than 150 patients suspected to have the A/H1N1 flu detected 23 new cases early Wednesday, adding to 26 already reported, the health ministry said in a statement.
The number of confirmed cases in the United States also rose to 91 in 10 states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, up from 65 cases in six states the day before.
CDC acting director Richard Besser said new H1N1 infections had been confirmed in Arizona, Massachusetts, Michigan and Nevada.
Germany, with three cases, Costa Rica, with two, and Austria (one) became the latest countries to confirm they had sufferers. Italy was also investigating some 20 suspected cases.
Officials at Berlin's Robert Koch Institute, responsible for disease control and prevention, said a 22-year-old woman was in hospital in Hamburg and that a 37-year-old woman and a man in his 30s were in separate hospitals in Bavaria.
All three had recently returned from holidays in Mexico.
Spain said six more cases had been confirmed, all of them in the northeastern region of Catalonia, bringing its total to 10. Officials said that one of the confirmed cases had not visited Mexico.
Other nations announced their infection tallies had increased.
Authorities in Israel, New Zealand, Spain and Britain have confirmed cases of infection with the virus, believed to be a previously unseen amalgam of different flu viruses.
Although the WHO said it had not seen "any evidence that anyone is getting infected from pigs," Egypt ordered the "immediate" cull of all the estimated 250,000 pigs in the country.
The first possible cases in Africa sprang up when South Africa's health ministry said it was testing two people who had recently returned from Mexico.
France is to ask the European Union to ban flights to Mexico, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said in Paris.
"We will ask our colleagues to look at suspending outbound flights to Mexico," she told reporters after a government meeting on the flu crisis.
She said flights from Mexico would not be stopped so that people at risk would not be tempted to find another route home and thus escape testing.
Major tour agencies and cruise lines have already suspended trips to Mexico, while Argentina and Cuba have already barring flights to and from the country.
Some have suggested that those who died in Mexico were treated too late or with insufficient drugs, or that perhaps the strain mutated into something less virulent when it left the country.
Date created : 2009-04-29