The World Health Organization is raising the swine flu pandemic warning level from phase 5 to 6 — its highest alert.
So, what does this mean for people here in the United States? Not a whole lot, say federal health officials.
A pandemic is an indication of the spread of the virus, not its severity. Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of immunizations and respiratory diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed the possibility in a press briefing last month.
"A Phase 6 means that the virus is spreading in a sustained way in at least two regions of the world," Schuchat said. "It's important to know that we're seeing sustained spread here in the U.S. and we're acting very aggressively. And so if it changed to a Phase 6 would have less impact for us here in the U.S. than for countries that haven't yet gone into a full court press on the virus."
CDC spokesman Glen Nowak added that the move to Phase 6 would not change how the United States tackles swine flu. "Our actions in the past month have been as if there was a pandemic in this country," Nowak said.
As of Wednesday, 74 countries had reported 27,737 cases of swine flu, including 141 deaths. In the United States, there have been more than 13,000 cases and 27 deaths.
State Department of Health officials remind citizens of the basics: Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough, stay home if you're sick.