Level of influenza pandemic alert raised from phase 4 to 5
As the swine flu virus appeared in new locations as far apart as Peru and Switzerland on Thursday, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 109 confirmed cases from 11 states, up from 91 cases in 10 states on Wednesday. See the map of swine flu outbreak cases
Based on assessment of all available information and following several expert consultations, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's Director-General raised the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5 - signaling a pandemic was "imminent" and calling on all countries to immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.
Germany and Austria became the latest countries to report swine flu infections Wednesday, with cases already confirmed in Canada, Britain, Israel, New Zealand and Spain.
Global health authorities warned Wednesday that swine flu was threatening to bloom into a pandemic, and the virus spread farther in Europe even as the outbreak appeared to stabilize at its epicenter. A toddler who succumbed in Texas became the first death outside Mexico. New cases and deaths finally seemed to be leveling off in Mexico, where 160 people have been killed, after an aggressive public health campaign.
Health authorities around the world are taking extraordinary measures to combat the epidemic and mitigate its effects for several interlocking reasons. It is clear the strain is easy to transmit; what remains to be seen is how many more deaths will result.
After being unsettled by years of battling deadly bird flu, the Egyptian government has decided to slaughter the nation's 300,000 pigs to prevent the spread of swine flu. The health ministry has reportedly put all hospitals and quarantine center on alert to slow the spread of the virus in Egypt.
Mexican officials said the federal government will suspend all non-essential services and urged businesses to close to reduce the risk of spreading swine flu. "For many families, the measures taken have involved a sacrifice," President Felipe Calderon said in a nationally televised address. "It is worth it if we can protect the health of our own."
Eight states closed schools Wednesday, affecting 53,000 students in Texas alone, and President Barack Obama said wider school closings might be necessary to keep crowds from spreading the flu. Mexico has already closed schools nationwide until at least May 6.
Health officials are reporting another 10 cases of swine flu in Texas, bringing the state's number of confirmed infections to 26. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported Thursday that most of the confirmed cases continue to be in Guadalupe County, where at least eight people have the virus. Dallas County has three cases, while there is no information yet about where 10 of the cases in Texas were confirmed.
Ecuador joined Cuba and Argentina in banning travel either to or from Mexico, and other nations considered similar bans. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy met with cabinet ministers to discuss swine flu, and the health minister said France would ask the European Union to suspend flights to Mexico.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said Thursday that the government is on high alert to fight against swine flu. Tsang made the remark at a meet-the-media session after visiting the Infectious Disease Center of the Princess Margaret Hospital of Hong Kong Thursday afternoon.
Global health officials have warned that it is not feasible for authorities to contain the disease by closing borders or restricting travel. Instead, they are encouraging governments to focus on mitigating the disease's spread through public health measures, a challenge governments are taking on with a spectrum of responses.
Most people will not have immunity to this new virus and, as it continues to spread, more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected. And as the virus spreads, the likelihood grows that it will mutate.