WHO may take several days to decide whether to declare new flu pandemic

May 4, 2009 1:37 am 

GENEVA, May 3 — The World Health Organization is likely to take several days to decide whether to raise its alert for the new influenza strain to the highest level and declare a pandemic.

"At this stage, we have to expect that phase 6 will be reached…We have to hope that it won't be reached," Michael Ryan, the WHO's director of global alert and response, said at a news conference Saturday.

"I would still propose that a pandemic is imminent," he said, suggesting the possibility of raising the alert level.

But he called for a calm response even if the level is raised, stressing that a phase 6 alert means a geographical expansion of the disease and is irrelevant to the seriousness of symptoms.

The WHO raised its alert to phase 5 Wednesday.

The WHO is monitoring the flu epidemic with the possibility of raising the alert level as there are signs, particularly in Europe, of a sustained spread of infections.

In Europe, France has joined the list of affected countries while Britain, Germany and Spain have reported increases in infection cases.

The Geneva-based organization has said it will consider raising the alert level when it sees evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission of the virus outside Mexico, the epicenter of the disease and North America.

Mexico said it completed tests in 1,303 possible infection cases by Saturday and confirmed 473 cases of the new flu.

A total of 19 patients — 14 females and five males — have died of the disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of confirmed infections totaled 160 people in 21 states by Saturday, of whom 13 people were hospitalized. There remains only one fatality in the country.

About one-third of the infected people had traveled to Mexico, but others had never been there, suggesting they contracted the virus from other people outside the country.

In California, the number of confirmed infections was 24, but there were 110 suspected cases, suggesting infections could spread further.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has reported what appears to be the first case of the new strain of influenza passing from a human to pigs, Canadian media reported Saturday.

The pigs on a farm in the Canadian province of Alberta have been found infected with the swine flu virus through a farm worker who returned April 12 from a trip to Mexico and began working on the farm two days later, the reports said. (PNA/Kyodo) LDV/rsm

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