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WHO Says Swine Flu Alert Level May Go Higher

The World Health Organization says it is moving closer to raising its swine flu pandemic alert level to phase five. But, it says more evidence is needed to confirm the sustained spread of the disease before that decision is made.

Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment at the World Health Organization, Keiji Fukuda, says it is clear the virus is spreading. He says there is no evidence that it is slowing down. He says person-to-person transmission of swine flu is continuing in a number of places.

"As the outbreak evolves, we are moving closer to phase five," said Keiji Fukuda. "So, we are moving closer to that, but I do not think we are quite there yet. Phase 5 is a significant milestone in preparation for countries and in warnings. And, what we are trying to do right now is to make absolutely sure that we are dealing with sustained transmissions in at least two or more countries."

The severest cases of swine flu are found in Mexico, where the disease is suspected of killing more than 150 people and sickening more than 2,400. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms more than 90 cases in 10 States. And, the first confirmed death outside Mexico has occurred in a baby in Texas.

Besides Mexico and the United States, cases of swine flu have been reported in Canada, Israel, Spain, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and, most recently, in Germany and Austria.

The World Health organization recently raised the pandemic alert level to phase four. Before this level is raised to phase five - the second highest - it says there must be confirmation that infected people in at least two countries are spreading the disease to people in the community in a sustained way.

Dr. Fukuda says infections mainly have been reported in people who have been in Mexico or among those who have had contact with people who have traveled there.

"What we are looking for overall is whether we see many kinds of those infections occurring in a way which suggests that transmission is occurring independent of travel and is being established in communities," he said. "So, that is the sort of pattern of transmission which really helps us to decide when an infection has become established in a neighborhood or in a community and in a country."

Dr. Fukuda says it is difficult to know how the swine flu epidemic is going to evolve. He says it is important that countries have warnings about the development of the disease. He says they must have time to prepare to implement life-saving actions.

He notes the importance of accurate information. For example, he says contrary to some reports, there is no evidence that people are getting infected from pigs nor from pork products.