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By Robert Raffaele
Washington
29 April 2009

Policemen in Mexico City wear protective masks, 27 Apr 2009
Policemen in Mexico City wear protective masks, 27 Apr 2009
Health agencies around the world say they are taking aggressive measures to fight the outbreak of swine flu. The virus is now suspected in the deaths of more than 150 people in Mexico. There are also confirmed cases in six other countries (the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Spain, and Israel). In the U.S., authorities have confirmed at least 65 cases of swine flu. And President Obama has asked Congress for an additional $1.5 billion to help fight the illness.

Number of confirmed cases increasing


As the number of confirmed cases of swine flu rose worldwide, and travelers took precautions, U.S. Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano said her agency is planning for a long battle. "This is going to be a marathon," she said.

Swine flu cases have been confirmed in five U.S. states, with the greatest number in New York City.

Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (r), Dr. Richard Besser  (l) at the White House, 26 Apr 2009
Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (r), Dr. Richard Besser (l) at the White House, 26 Apr 2009
Dr. Richard Besser, acting head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention talked about the potential spread. "As we continue to investigate cases here, I expect we will see deaths in this country," he said.

More than 1,600 people have been sickened in Mexico, where the virus is believed to have originated. The virus is suspected in the deaths of more than 150 people there.

The flu has spread to other countries including New Zealand and Israel, where a 26-year-old man recently returned from Mexico and has been quarantined in a hospital.  

WHO: Raised alert level phase four

On Monday, the World Health Organization raised its flu pandemic alert level (to Phase Four on a scale of six), saying the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, although it is not certain.

WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda (file photo)
WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda (file photo)
The agency's assistant director-general, Keiji Fukuda, says there is still cause for hope. "It is entirely possible that we may see a very mild pandemic. And that would be the best of all possible situations, short of this current situation simply disappearing."

Obama request $1.5 billion to fight outbreak

At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs announced that President Obama has sent Congress a request for an additional $1.5 billion to fight the outbreak and supplement stockpiles of anti-viral medicines.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says researchers are developing "seed stock" of the virus to develop a vaccine.

"We're moving forward aggressively, so that if a decision is made that we need to 'rev up' production to make that vaccine, we would be ready to do so," Besser stated.

Besser repeated recommendations that people wash their hands frequently, and stay home from work or school if they feel ill.

Officials say "swine flu" cannot be contracted from eating thoroughly-cooked pork products.

Nevertheless, some nations have banned pork imports from Mexico and parts of the U.S.

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