The World Health Organization raised the pandemic alert level to 5 this afternoon, the second highest level for the organization. Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that the disease cannot be contained. At least 91 confirmed cases of the flu have been reported throughout the globe.
WHO says 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.
The disease, which is believed to have originated in Mexico, has now spread across the globe, with confirmed cases having been reported in Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand and Israel. The United States has also reported its first death from the disease in a toddler in Texas. A confirmed case was also reported in Costa Rica, and South Korea and France both had probable cases.
The WHO said on Tuesday that while it was not yet certain that the outbreak would turn into a pandemic, countries should prepare for the worst. "Countries should take the opportunity to prepare for a pandemic," said the acting assistant director-general for the WHO, Keiji Fukuda.
"Based on assessment of all available information, and following several expert consultations, I have decided to raise the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5," said Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the WHO, in a statement released in Geneva today. "...All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia." After the announcement was made, Wikinews learned that the WHO website had crashed for several minutes, presumably due to high traffic volume.
There is no vaccine for swine flu. In 1976 during an outbreak of the disease, at least 500 people became seriously ill, and of them, 25 had died when inoculated with an attempt at a vaccination. The 500 that became ill, developed a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) which caused paralysis "and is characterized by various degrees of weakness, sensory abnormalities and autonomic dysfunction." Those who developed the disorder did so because of an immunopathological reaction to the drug. Nearly 40 million U,S. residents, including then President Gerald Ford, were inoculated,