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WHO won't raise alert level

THE World Health Organization said on yesterday it was keeping its global pandemic alert at level 5 out of 6, given the H1N1 flu strain has not yet gained momentum outside the Americas.

Sylvie Briand, acting director of the WHO's global influenza program, said most people infected with the new strain around the world had imported the virus by travelling to Mexico or being in close contact with those who had.

"We still remain in stage 5. We have no evidence of community transmission," Briand told a news conference in Geneva, also announcing Brazil's first four infections involving the new flu.

The emergence and spread of the H1N1 strain of flu, which killed some young adults in Mexico, caused the WHO to increase its pandemic alert warning to its second-highest level last week.

Phase 5 indicates a pandemic is "imminent" and signals that governments worldwide should get ready to fight it off.

To reach Phase 6, the WHO would have to see the new virus spreading in a sustained way in a country outside the Americas.

Asked about why the H1N1 strain, widely known as swine flu, had killed young adults in Mexico but caused relatively mild symptoms elsewhere, Briand said it appeared those patients did not seek medical care in time.

"These people arrived very late to health care facilities ... treatment was applied very late in the course of disease," she said.

WHO laboratories have confirmed 44 deaths from the strain, all but two in the disease epicenter of Mexico.

Mexico yesterday confirmed one more death from swine flu, bringing the national death toll to 45.

Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said tests also confirmed 159 more cases of swine flu, bringing the total number of people sickened to 1,319.

On Thursady, Argentine health officials confirmed the country's first case of H1N1 flu, detected in an Argentine tourist who had traveled to Mexico, Health Minister Graciela Ocana said in a news conference.


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