Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WHO raises pandemic threat level as more flu cases confirmed in California


Published: April 27, 2009 
Updated 12 hours ago 

Homeland Security Committee member calls for closure of U.S.-Mexico border

The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic threat level regarding what has become known as swine flu to level four, but has not yet declared the spreading virus a global pandemic. Moments after the WHO’s announcement, four more cases of swine flu were confirmed across California. The virus has reportedly killed 149 in Mexico thus far. More than 2,000 are believed infected.

“The United States advised Americans against most travel to Mexico and ordered stepped up border checks in neighboring states,” reported the Associated Press. “The European Union health commissioner advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel both to Mexico and parts of the United States.”

New York Democrat Eric Massa, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for closure of the U.S.-Mexico border until the situation is contained.

“The public needs to be aware of the serious threat of swine flu, and we need to close our borders to Mexico immediately and completely until this is resolved,” said Massa ina statement published to his Web site. “The CDC and the WHO are monitoring this situation closely and I call on all Americans to pay attention and follow their instructions as this situation develops. I have complete faith in our medical professionals and look forward to a swift conclusion to this problem. I am making this announcement because I see this as a serious threat to the health of the American public and I do not believe this issue is receiving the attention it needs to have in the news.”

“Right now we don’t think the facts warrant more active testing or screening of passengers coming in from Mexico,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, noted Philadelphia newspaper The Bulletin.

“The DHS Secretary said TSA officials would conduct passive screening of those entering in to the country from Mexico. No travel warning for Mexico has been issued at this time, despite the outbreak, officials said.”

The total number of infected in the United States was 44 at time of this writing. None of the U.S. cases have been lethal.

“Other U.S. cases have been reported in Ohio, Kansas [and] Texas…” reported the Associated Press. “Worldwide there were 73 cases, including six in Canada, one in Spain and two in Scotland.

‘While the total cases were still measured in hundreds, not thousands, Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said the epidemic was entering an extremely dangerous phase, with the number of people infected mushrooming even as authorities desperately ramped up defenses,” noted AP.

Three of the new California cases confirmed on Monday involved people in San Diego and Imperial County on the Mexican border.

The other new case involved a student at a school in Sacramento in northern California. St Mel’s Catholic School was shut after a student was taken ill with flu-like symptoms, Sacramento health officials said.

St Mel’s, which has about 275 students, is expected to be closed until Wednesday. The student at the center of the health alert was not identified. Health officials said the student had not travelled to Mexico but another pupil had been in the country during the Easter break.

Meanwhile workers at Los Angeles International Airport — where 45 flights from Mexico land daily — were disinfecting restrooms and taking other measures in an attempt to halt the spread of the disease.

Airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said cleaners “paying additional attention to sanitizing door knobs, handrails and faucets on a regular basis.”

The Center for Disease Control has outlined basic guidelines for flu avoidance on its Web site.