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WHO raises alert level over swine flu

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the alert level to Phase 4 (the first time that the alert level has ever been raised above a 3) but stopped short of declaring a global emergency. The “Phase 4” level means that there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus, causing outbreaks in at least one country.

(Note added April 30, 2009: Yesterday on April 29, WHO raised the alert level to a Phase 5, just one step below the highest rating of Phase 6 or “Pandemic.” Today, WHO has confirmed 257 swine flu H1N1 worldwide, up from 147 yesterday. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports 109 cases in the United States. Four Bay Area schools were closed by the time of the 10 PM news last night in California.)

The suspected number of deaths in Mexico rose to 149 (with nearly 2000 people believed to be infected), and the number of cases in the United States rose to 48, although none in the U.S. has been fatal. U.S. cases have been found in New York, Ohio, Kansas, Texas, and California. California has seven confirmed cases, at this point. (Note added April 28: California cases are now at 13 confirmed cases.)

(Note added April 29, 2009: There are now two confirmed cases of swine flu in Marin County, CA [north of San Francisco] and one probable in Santa Clara County [Silicon Valley].)

Currently, there is no vaccine for preventing illness by the specific strain of influenza virus now seen, and a vaccine for the virus might not be ready for 4-6 months. Anti-flu drugs for fighting the virus once people are infected, about 11 million doses, are now being sent to states in the U.S. in case they are needed. The U.S. has urged travelers to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico, and Mexico has closed all schools until at least May 6.

CNET news has offerred suggested online resources for tracking the new swine flu virus, while avoiding misinformation, including a Google Maps swine flu outbreak map and Healthmaps, to see where the new swine flu is heading. A Wikipedia article on the current outbreak has a country-by-country listing with confirmed cases, other possible cases, and attributed deaths.

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