The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from its current phase 3 to phase 4 to reflect continued spread of the hybrid flu strain.

The virus has been confirmed in Mexico, the United States, Canada and Spain, but overnight there were two reports of new cases in Israel from travelers who just returned from Mexico.

The change to a higher phase of pandemic alert indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable, according to the WHO.

Epidemiological data demonstrating human-to-human transmission and the ability of the virus to cause community outbreaks are given as basic reasons for the decision.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed 64 cases in five states: California, Texas, Kansas, Ohio and New York. None have reported any contact with swine. The outbreak continues to be transmitted human to human.

To set the record straight on North American Flu, the American Meat Institute (AMI) has released a video message about pork safety from AMI President J. Patrick Boyle that can be accessed on AMI’s You Tube Channel.

AMI has also posted a statement, a series of consumer questions and answers and audio sound bites on its consumer web site.

Providing additional reassurance comes from public health officials like flu chief Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization who said recently, “I want to say very clearly. Right now we have no evidence to suggest that people are getting exposed or getting infected from exposure to pork or to pigs. Right now we have zero evidence to suspect exposure to meat leads to infections.”

Despite the consensus that pork is safe to eat, five countries have announced partial bans on pork from the United States and Mexico including Russia, China, Philippines, Serbia and Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, Mexico, the epicenter of the North American Flu outbreak, is looking at the potential role of Smithfield Foods’ operations.

The Mexican government is testing Smithfield hogs in Mexico, but the company says its pork is not to blame.

“We are very comfortable that our pork is safe,” says Smithfield President and CEO Larry Pope. “This is not a swine issue. This is a human-to-human issue.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has assembled a list of frequently asked questions about this unique type of flu.