April 27 (Bloomberg) -- The World Health Organization will raise its pandemic alert to an unprecedented level today, saying that swine flu is spreading across North America, two people familiar with the agency said.
An increase above level 3 on the WHO’s six-step alert system would be the first since the United Nations agency began grading the pandemic risks in 1999. The agency’s pandemic guidelines say the goal of a level 4 pandemic phase is “containment of the new virus within a limited area or delay of its spread,” suggesting the change will trigger travel warnings.
The swine flu’s spread in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada is heightening concern that the virus may spark the world’s first influenza pandemic since the 1968 Hong Kong flu, which killed as many as 4 million people.
“The tenor at the moment is they should call it a pandemic,” said John Oxford, a virologist at Retroscreen Virology Ltd. in London. “We’ve seen how it’s moving.”