Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pandemic 'Imminent': WHO Raises Swine Flu Pandemic Alert Level to 5

World Health Organization Urges Governments to Prepare for Pandemic

The move by the agency, which is the public health arm of the United Nations, is "a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent," according to published guidelines.

"The change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to governments [and industry] that certain actions now should be undertaken with increased urgency and at an accelerated pace," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general, at a press conference Wednesday.

"The biggest question is this -- how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start," Chan said. "It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic."

Practically speaking, the shift is crucial to mobilize pharmaceutical companies and governments to start manufacturing adequate antiviral drugs and expedite the creation of a vaccine against swine flu.

It also places the world a single step away from an official global pandemic.

President Barack Obama pledged "great vigilance" in confronting the swine flu outbreak Wednesday night as it spread coast to coast across the U.S.

Despite calls from many U.S. lawmakers for tightening controls over the Mexico-US border, Obama ruled out that option, even though the swine flu outbreak has been at its most virulent and may have begun there.