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April 29, 2009

WHO Raises Pandemic Alert To Level 5

The World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic alert level to 5 Wednesday afternoon, the second-highest level, indicating that the swine flu outbreak is moving closer toward becoming a pandemic.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the agency's Director-General, said the decision to raise the alert was based on the latest scientific evidence on the outbreak.

Level 6 is the final stage, indicating a global pandemic of a new and deadly disease.

"For the first time in history we can track the pandemic in real time," Chan said.

"The world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history."

"No matter what the situation is, the international community should treat this as a window of opportunity to ramp up ... response," a Reuters report quoted Chan as saying.

"It is really all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic."

The new strain is a never-before-seen combination of swine, avian and human viruses.  

The fast-moving virus continues to spread throughout the globe - with cases now confirmed in at least 10 U.S. states.

Cases of H1N1 swine flu have now been confirmed in Mexico, the United States, Canada, Britain, Israel, New Zealand and Spain. Germany and Austria also reported cases of swine flu on Wednesday, while the number of reported cases increased in the United Kingdom and Spain.

As of early Wednesday, the CDC reported a total of 91 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States.  However, many states have reported additional suspected cases that are now being investigated.

"The more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S. 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 in the coming days and weeks," wrote the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an update on its Web site on Wednesday.

A Mexico City boy who traveled to Texas with family members became the first confirmed death in the U.S. from swine flu.  The 23-month-old boy arrived in the border city of Brownsville, Texas with "underlying health issues" on April 4.  He developed flu symptoms four days later, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

He was taken to a Brownsville hospital April 13 and transferred the following day to a hospital in Houston, where he died Monday night.

President Barack Obama advised schools with confirmed or possible swine flu cases to "consider temporarily closing so that we can be as safe as possible."

At least 74 elementary, junior high and high schools have closed throughout the country due to confirmed or probable swine flu cases, the Department of Education said Wednesday.

An additional 30 schools have closed as a precautionary measure, said department spokesman Massie Ritsch.

In California, the number of confirmed cases statewide grew to 14, including a sick Marine at a base in Southern California.  State officials are investigating another 17 probable cases in eight counties.

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