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WHO Raises Alert Level as Swine Flu Continues to Spread

The World Health Organization raised the threat level of the swine flu Wednesday and a child died of the illness on U.S. soil. The CDC's Dr. Richard Besser provides an update on the government's response.

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    The swine flu outbreak spread to more of the U.S. today. Health officials confirmed at least 93 cases and the first death on American soil.

    That word came as an international health alert was raised higher still.

    Health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has our lead story report.

    BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour correspondent: The news was flashed this morning of a confirmed death in Texas. The victim was a toddler from Mexico who died Monday night at a Houston hospital.

    Health officials said he traveled to Texas this month to visit family and was hospitalized a couple of weeks ago after falling ill.

    DR. DAVID PERSSE, director, Houston Emergency Medical Services: Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts, the child succumbed to the illness. And the CDC provided — it was a laboratory confirmation, in which they announced this morning that the child did, in fact — was, in fact, infected with the swine flu virus.


    And in Washington, President Obama took note of the child's passing.


    My thoughts and prayers and deepest condolences go out to the family, as well as those who are ill and recovering from this flu.


    A short time later, Texas called off all public high school athletic and academic events, at least until May 11th.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 10 states, including Texas, have confirmed cases of swine flu. The others are New York, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, and Nevada.

    And state officials in Maine also said they had confirmed cases, and several other states could join the list.

    Some hospitals, like the Rose Medical Center here in Denver, have seen a spike in the number of people coming to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms. Just since Sunday, doctors have taken nasal swabs of more than 30 people and, when swine flu could not be ruled out in three of those cases, samples were sent to the CDC in Atlanta for testing.

    One U.S. Marine was confirmed sick with the flu at Twentynine Palms Marine base in Southern California, and 30 other Marines were quarantined there.

    To prevent further spread of the flu, the president today urged schools with confirmed or suspected cases to shut down temporarily.


    If the situation becomes more serious and we have to take more extensive steps, then parents should also think about contingencies if schools in their areas do temporarily shut down, figuring out and planning what their childcare situation would be.


    And at a Senate hearing, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the government was making ready for a worst-case-scenario.

    JANET NAPOLITANO, secretary of Homeland Security: There is a lot we don't yet know about this outbreak, but we have been preparing as if we are facing a true pandemic, even though we don't know the ultimate scope of what will occur. We also have been preparing with the understanding that this will be a marathon and not a sprint. We're going to be at this for a while.


    Several lawmakers argued the administration should consider closing the border with Mexico, but Napolitano resisted that idea.


    Making such a closure right now has not been merited by the facts, would have very, very little marginal benefit in terms of containing the actual outbreak of virus within our own country.


    Across the border, the mayor of Mexico City said the outbreak appeared to be stabilizing. There have been more than 150 deaths total, but only one since yesterday. He said he'd consider easing a citywide shutdown if that trend continues.

  • MAYOR MARCELO EBRARO, Mexico City (through translator):

    When we can confirm that the measures have achieved this objective and that the number of dead is decreasing, then we could pass from the maximum alert to the normal alert. We are following the international experience and the recommendation made by the World Health Organization.


    And in Egypt, the government ordered the slaughter of all 300,000 pigs in the country, despite repeated assurances the flu is not spread through consuming pork.

    But the World Health Organization warned transmission from human to human is rising. It raised its alert status to level five, one stage below all-out pandemic.

    MARGARET CHAN, director-general, WHO: WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them.


    The agency called for stepped-up action by governments and drug companies.