WHO close to announcing swine flu pandemic, says official

June 10th, 2009 - 5:35 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, June 10 (Xinhua) The World Health Organisation (WHO) is “very close” to announcing a global pandemic for the influenza A(H1N1) virus, also called swine flu, as it continues to spread rapidly, a senior official said.
“We are getting really very close to knowing that we are in a pandemic situation, or I think, declaring that we are in a pandemic situation,” WHO Assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda told reporters in Geneva Tuesday.

He said signs of community-level transmission of the virus had appeared in Australia, where more than 1,000 human cases have been confirmed in the past few days.

For declaring a pandemic, WHO needs to raise its alert level from the current phase five to phase six, and that requires confirmed information the virus is causing sustained and community-level infections in regions outside North America, the only region with community-level outbreaks.

Fukuda said the move from phase five to phase six would be based on the geographic spread of the disease, instead of its severity.

Moving to phase six “does not mean that the severity of the situation has increased or that people are getting seriously sick at higher numbers or higher rates than they are right now”, he said, adding that it is important for countries and the public not to panic.

“One of the things we are really focusing on right now is to help countries, institutions; and the media really understand what are pandemics,” Fukuda said.

WHO is trying to provide countries and the public with as much information as possible in order to “reduce the chances of any adverse effects” once a pandemic is declared, he said.

According to the latest WHO figures, 26,563 people in 73 countries have been infected with the virus so far. A total of 140 people have died since the outbreak of the disease. Most of the deaths occurred in Mexico, where the disease was first reported.

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