As the number of confirmed swine flu cases nationwide doubled to 40 - with half of them from a school in Queens - the World Health Organization raised its flu-alert system Monday to signal that "the likelihood of a pandemic has increased."
The additional 20 cases brings to 28 the number of swine flu cases at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows. The city's health department said another 17 cases have been identified as "probable" and have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further testing.
As health departments were flooded with calls from worried citizens, President Barack Obama said "we are closely monitoring the emerging cases," and the United States Monday advised Americans to put off unnecessary travel to Mexico.
Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said Monday the 20 additional cases do not represent "an ongoing spread" of the disease but are associated with additional testing of the original cluster of students. City health officials said at least 100 students at the school have complained of flu-like symptoms.
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COMPLETE COVERAGE: Swine flu Meanwhile, on Long Island, four possible Suffolk County cases "are in the pipeline" to be tested, Health Commissioner Dr. Humayun J. Chaudhry said. All four are from Amityville. The specimens have been sent to the state laboratory outside Albany. Once the specimens are received, testing takes six to eight hours to determine whether it's a probable case of swine flu.
In Nassau, the county's one suspected case will not be tested, Health Commissioner Dr. Maria Torroella Carney said. That's because the patient had mild symptoms and is recovering at home. The state is prioritizing cases of people who are seriously ill, linked to the Queens school or who have a "travel history to Mexico," said Dr. Gus Birkhead, deputy commissioner in the state Health Department.
Since Saturday, the city's 311 information line has fielded more than 100,000 queries about swine flu. Birkhead said the state got 1,176 calls in the first 24 hours of its setting up an toll free swine flu hotline.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, said they have been "inundated" with calls and visits from anxious people.
Seventy-three cases of the virus have been confirmed worldwide, WHO said. Mexico has confirmed 26 cases although Mexican authorities said the virus has possibly killed 149 and sickened close to 2,000.
In the United States, there have been no deaths and only one person has been hospitalized. But, Besser warned, that could change.
Meanwhile, the WHO upped its level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 3 to phase 4 on a six-level scale. The change indicates "the likelihood of a worldwide outbreak has increased but not that a pandemic is inevitable," the WHO said.
The other confirmed cases in the United States have been in California, Ohio, Kansas and Texas. Canada has reported six cases while Spain has reported one, WHO said.
The WHO did not recommend travel restrictions but the European Union's health commissioner, Androulla Vassilou, said she recommended people avoid "nonessential travel to those areas reported to be in the center of the cluster," including the United States. However, Besser said it was "premature" to warn people not to travel to the United States.
Staff writers Michael Frazier and Jennifer Barrios contributed to this story, which was supple-
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: The important thing to realize is that the flu is right in New York, and we should be careful....The story was from Newsday. On Tuesday there were two cases reported in Connecticut..