Health authorities around the world are taking urgent steps to control
spreading infections of H1N1 influenza A, or swine flu, which is on the
brink of a pandemic.
Since it was identified as a serious public-health issue, the new swine
flu virus has been blamed for making thousands of people ill, and the
suspected death toll is growing.
The World Health Organization raised
its global alert level for the new
flu variant to Phase 5, one step below a declaration of a pandemic.
Mexico, where the biggest cluster of swine flu infections is located,
is trying to confirm the exact extent and severity of the virus.
far, health authorities there say they have confirmed the new virus
infected about 100 people, eight of whom died. It is suspected in the
deaths of dozens more people in Mexico.
The toll of sickness and death from the virus, which has been confirmed
in a number of other countries, could go far higher.
The U.N. health
agency has asked all countries to combat the spreading virus with
"increased urgency." WHO director-general, Margaret Chan says it is
clear a new pandemic is beginning, with the only uncertainty being how
severe the effects of the virus will be.
The WHO says 11 countries have officially reported 257 cases of the
The only fatality from the virus outside Mexico has been in the United
States, where a 23-month-old Mexican boy died this week while visiting
relatives in Texas. The Mexican government is calling for the
suspension of all
non-essential activities in the country for five days, starting Friday.
Some schools have been shut down in the U.S., although President Barack
Obama says there is no need for panic.
The European Union held emergency talks on the crisis Thursday in
Ministers from the Association of South-East Asian Nations
plan to meet next week to coordinate their response.
Other confirmed cases of the new swine flu have been reported in
Austria, Britain, Canada, Germany, Israel, Spain, New Zealand,
Netherlands and Switzerland. Australia, Colombia, France, Denmark and
South Korea are among nations investigating suspected cases.