WHO raises swine flu alert

GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised its flu alert to phase five out of six, WHO chief Margaret Chan said, signalling that a pandemic was “imminent” following the swine flu outbreak. “I have decided to raise the influenza pandemic alert from phase four to phase five,” the WHO director general announced after an emergency meeting of the UN health agency’s pandemic experts.

“This is a signal to governments, ministries of health... to the pharmaceutical industry, that certain actions now should be undertaken with increased urgency,” she told journalists.

“All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans,” she added. She underlined that the threat following the swine flu outbreak focused on Mexico and the US “must be taken seriously.” Phase five, one step short of a full pandemic or phase six, 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.

Chan explained that experts had decided to raise the alert as not only were there “sustained” human to human transmission cases in Mexico, but also in the US.

“When we see two countries in one WHO region providing evidence to that effect, we are moving into phase five,” she said. A Mexican toddler became the first person to die in the United States of swine flu yesterday, as US health officials said the number of infections recorded reached at least 91 in 10 states. Mexico, meanwhile, on the same day nearly doubled its number of confirmed swine flu cases to 49, including seven deaths from the virus. Chan said that while it is understandable that people are “anxious,” the issue needed to be managed in a calm manner.