WHO changes virus name, 257 confirmed cases

May 1st, 2009 - 3:01 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, May 1 (DPA) The World Health Organization (WHO) updated Thursday the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of what it is now calling only the H1N1 influenza, to 257, including eight deaths, but reiterated that there was no need for panic.
The largest spike came from Mexico, where the number jumped from 26 cases to 97, including seven deaths. In the United States, across ten states, there were 109 cases including one death of a toddler in Texas.

Keiji Fukuda, the health security chief of the WHO, said it would cease use of the word “swine” and stick with the scientific title of a new variant of influenza A(H1N1).

“We know it is an H1N1 virus. This is scientifically accurate and doesn’t place any stigmas,” he said.

“This is to try to reduce some of the overreactions to swine flu as a name,” Fukuda said, urging people not to overstep in their reactions.

The spread of the virus is believed to be in the form of human-to-human transmission and not from pigs or pork. In spite of moves by states to ban imports of pork from affected countries, the WHO has insisted eating properly prepared pig flesh was not a danger.

Late Wednesday the health agency had raised its pandemic influenza alert to Phase 5, just one below the highest, in light of evidence showing sustained human-to-human transmission in communities in the United States and Mexico.

The WHO has not ruled out that it will raise the level once more, but said while the disease was spreading, it had not yet pinned down the nature of the virus. It caused mild disease in most cases but had also shown itself to be fatal.

“No move to phase 6 is imminent right now,” said Fukuda. There is “nothing that epidemiologically suggests to us today that we should be moving towards phase 6.”

“We shouldn’t be panicking. The right way to approach this is to be alert,” he explained.

“The whole reason for doing this, going through phases, letting people know, is to prepare and provide as much time to prepare as possible,” Fukuda went on.

“Influenza pandemics occurred in the past. We know they can be quite mild, they can be in between or quite severe,” he said, adding that the WHO wanted to avoid taking the situation too lightly now only for it to rear up later as a dangerous pandemic.

“Prepare for the worst and if something much softer comes along, count your blessings,” he summed up the philosophy at the WHO.

Canada had 19 cases in four provinces. Spain had 13 confirmed cases, including one case of community spread, with the rest in people who returned from Mexico, where the outbreak is believed to have started.

Other countries with confirmed cases included Britain, New Zealand, Germany, Israel and Austria.

Countries were reporting some higher numbers while others, not on the WHO list yet, including Switzerland, the host country of the WHO, said they had confirmed cases.

The increases in statistics were largely from final laboratory results that were made public.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was appealing for $4.4 million to respond to the outbreak.

The federation, which unites all national societies, said it was ready to mobilize hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the globe should the need arise.

“The number of volunteers is increasing by the hour,” said Tammam Aloudat, a health expert with the IFRC. In Mexico they were “active in communities by spreading messages, doing surveillance support and also handling the transport of patients.”

He noted that those most at risk were people who were uninformed about personal health and those living in poor, crowded areas where sanitation networks were dirty and insufficient.

Like the WHO and private sector drug companies, the IFRC said the world was better prepared then ever for a possible pandemic due to steps taken following the avian flu outbreak earlier this decade, primarily the preparation of national action plans.

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