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WHO raises pandemic alert level to phase 5

In case you haven’t seen it yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the pandemic alert level to phase 5 last night [1], indicating a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent [2].

From a statement from Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO general-director:

“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.

“At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.”

Currently the CDC is reporting 91 confirmed cases in the United States [3], including infections in Arizona, Nevada, and Massachusetts. Early this morning, a Swiss health department spokesman confirmed a case in Switzerland.

Health experts from WHO and the CDC have said containment of the flu is no longer a feasible option, according to the [4]New York Times [4]. The focus has now shifted towards mitigation. Although there has been talk of closing borders, epidemiologists have said it would only be marginally beneficial. Doing so would put a large strain on healthcare facilities since most masks, gowns and gloves, electrical circuits for ventilators and communications gear, and pharmaceutical drugs and the raw materials to make them are imported from many other countries, said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy [5] at the University of Minnesota.