Swine flu alert nears pandemic level

(AP) - The Geneva-based World Health Organization onWednesday raised its alert level for the fast-spreading swine flu to its next-to-highest notch, signaling a global pandemic could be imminent.
The move came after the virus spread to at least 11 U.S. states from coast to coast and swept deeper into Europe.
"It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," said WHO Director General Margaret Chan. "We do not have all the answers right now but we will get them."
In the United States, President Barack Obama mourned the first U.S. death, a Mexican toddler who had traveled with his family to Texas. Total American cases surged to nearly 100, and Obama said wider school closings might be necessary.
In Mexico, where the flu is believed to have originated, officials said Wednesday the disease is now confirmed or suspected in 159 deaths, and nearly 2,500 illnesses.
There were no other deaths confirmed from the flu. But health officials in the United States and around the world braced for them.
Dr. Richard Besser, the acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in Atlanta there were more than 90 confirmed cases in 11 states, with 51 in New York, 16 in Texas and 14 in California. The CDC also counted scattered cases in Kansas,Massachusetts , Michigan, Arizona, Indiana, Nevada and Ohio. State officials in Maine said laboratory tests had confirmed three cases in that state, not yet included in the CDC count. Also, Illinois officials cited nine "likely cases," most of them in the Chicago area, and three schools were shut down.
In Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was questioned closely by senators about whether the U.S. should close its border with Mexico, where the outbreak apparently began and the casualties have been the greatest. She repeated the administration's position that questioning of people at borders and ports of entry was sufficient for now and said closing borders "has not been merited by the facts."
The WHO said the phase 5 alert means there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up.
Just Monday, the WHO had raised the alert level from 3 to 4. The organization is part of the United Nations.
Asked for advice for ordinary citizens, Chan, the WHO chief, said: "Continue with your business but try to pay special attention to personal hygiene."
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's top flu expert, said vigilance was all important because it was not known how severe the outbreaks would become.
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