GENEVA—The World Health Organization on Wednesday raised its pandemic alert to phase 5, which indicates that the swine flu is spreading from human to human and nearing the pandemic phase.
There have been 132 confirmed cases of swine flu in 11 countries, and the majority of the cases are in the United States, according to WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The global outbreak of swine flu started in Mexico where health officials estimate it has caused at least 159 deaths and approximately 2,500 illnesses. So far, WHO has confirmed 26 cases and seven swine flu deaths in Mexico, and one death in the United States.
This is the second time in three days that WHO’s Director-General Margaret Chan raised the global agency’s pandemic alert. “The biggest question right now is this: how severe will the pandemic be,” Chan said at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland. She added that nations need to “ramp up preparedness.”
The following is WHO’s definition of a phase 5 pandemic alert: “Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”
WHO uses a six-phase alert system in its global influenza preparedness plan to indicate at what level nations and communities should be preparing for an outbreak.
Phase 6 is the pandemic phase, which is characterized by community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region in addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5, according to WHO. Designation of this phase will indicate that a global pandemic is under way.
Click HERE for more information about WHO’s pandemic phases.