30 April 2009As it continued to intensively monitor the spread of the influenza A(H1N1) virus, the United Nations health agency today held its pandemic alert to Phase 5, put in place yesterday, and reiterated its call for heightened vigilance. “The situation continues to evolve,” Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), said during what has become a daily press teleconference from the agency, adding that there was nothing new today that indicated a move to the highest level of alert, Phase 6.“We see some countries reporting new cases,” Mr. Fukuda said. “We also see some countries, in which infection has been going on, reporting continued cases in their countries. And then we’re seeing that, in other countries, cases appear to be holding steady, for example, the United States,” he added.As of 2:50 p.m. Geneva time, lab-confirmed cases of the virus rose to 236 worldwide, up from the148 reported yesterday, he stated.The largest jump occurred in Mexico, which went up to 97 confirmed cases from 26 reported earlier, including seven deaths. That steep rise, Mr. Fukuda said, probably comes from the backlog of thousands of specimens submitted for testing and for which the laboratory results are just coming in.In announcing the notching up of the alert level to Phase 5 last night, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said it was a signal to Governments and to the private sector that preparatory actions should now be undertaken with “extreme urgency.” Alert Phase 5 meant that sustained human to human transmission had been confirmed, with widespread community outbreaks in at least two countries in one WHO region, she said. On the positive side, she reported that the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history, because of preparations made for avian flu outbreaks over the past years. Dr. Chan added that WHO will be tracking the pandemic at the epidemiological, clinical, and virological levels. And the results of these ongoing assessments will be made publicly available. “We do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.”Today, Mr. Fukuda said that WHO’s preparations have included a distribution of antiviral drugs to developing countries, including Mexico, out of 2 million doses donated for that purpose by the Roche pharmaceutical company.The agency is also working with Roche, which is planning to scale up its production of antivirals, on a framework to replenish its stockpile.The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meanwhile, reiterated that there is no evidence available that the influenza A(H1N1) virus is coming from or circulating in pigs. It was also announced today that Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will hold a town hall meeting tomorrow with New York staff to give an overview of the influenza A(H1N1) situation and the UN’s preparedness to address a potential pandemic.