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Threat level stays at five as WHO confirms 257 cases

Latest update : 2009-05-06

The World Health Organisation has announced there is no evidence for the moment to suggest that it should raise a pandemic flu alert from phase five to the highest level of six. The WHO said that it had confirmed 257 cases worldwide.

AFP - World health officials tried to quell growing fears over swine flu on Thursday, as governments braced for a global pandemic and the United States set up a lab in Mexico to help diagnose and test cases.
A day after upping its pandemic alert level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was no evidence to suggest it should be raised to the maximum of six, but warned of fresh outbreaks during the southern hemisphere's winter.



European ministers meanwhile rejected an EU-wide ban on travel to Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak which on Thursday raised the confirmed death toll to 12, and confirmed it had 260 cases of swine flu. A Mexican toddler also died from the disease during a visit to Texas.
"We have to be careful, we have to exercise vigilance, we should not panic, we have to be prepared," EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou told an emergency meeting of health ministers in Luxembourg.
She warned though that an international flu pandemic was "likely" although it would not necessarily cause widespread deaths.
"It is very likely that we will reach a pandemic, but this does not mean that it will be deadly," she told journalists.
Although there have been some deaths from the virus, most patients had responded well, she said, adding therefore "there is absolutely no reason to panic."
US health officials confirmed there were 111 cases of the H1N1 virus spread across 13 states, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave assurances they would receive ample supplies of anti-viral drugs.
The White House confirmed an official who had been part of President Barack Obama's delegation during a trip to Mexico earlier this month appeared to have contracted swine flu, and had likely infected three members of his family.
But the man, who dined with the president in Mexico City, have never been closer than six feet to the US leader, outside the infection zone.
A World Bank employee who traveled to Mexico was also diagnosed, the Washington-based bank said, adding some 80 fellow employees have been asked to work from home.
The United States has recorded the highest number of cases of swine flu outside Mexico, and has now set up a laboratory in Mexico to let scientists quickly diagnose cases of the H1N1 flu virus in the country.
"This is a really big step. It's going to help us with the studies there, because we'll really be able to confirm cases and then look at risk factors for those cases, how they're treated," said Richard Besser, acting CDC head.
"It's going to be very helpful in terms of speeding up the course of those studies," he said.
At stake is understanding why so far all the deaths except one have occurred in Mexico, and why most victims elsewhere have only suffered mild symptoms.
Japan reported its first suspected case of swine flu, a 17-year-old high school student who returned last weekend from Canada.
And Britain, the Netherlands, Peru and Switzerland all confirmed fresh cases of the virus. Some 13 countries outside of Mexico have now been affected.
In a televised address, Mexican President Felipe Calderon urged people to stay home during a five-day holiday weekend that starts Friday.
"There is no place as safe for protecting yourself against swine flu as your own home," he said. The government said the crisis could cost Mexico up to 70 billion dollars (53 billion euros).
Mexico has shut down public venues and even bars in the capital -- while major tour operators have halted trips to the country.
Swine flu is believed to be a new strain that combines bird, swine and common human influenza.
The WHO's phase five alert status signals widespread transmission from person to person and that a pandemic is imminent.
The UN organization meanwhile said it would begin referring to the swine flu virus as "influenza A (H1N1).
Pig farmers in many countries have been hit hard and are pressing governments to change the name of the virus.
Egypt began the slaughtering all pigs in the country on Thursday and there have been widespread bans on imports of North American pork, even though the disease cannot be caught from eating the meat.
In Britain, where three more cases were confirmed, the government's top health official said he was "concerned but... not alarmed" by the virus.
"To put things in proportion, in any flu, even the seasonal flu, there are some deaths, often of elderly people and the very frail," Liam Donaldson said.

Date created : 2009-04-30