WHO reconsiders pandemic level

27th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Swine flu cases near 13,000 and the World Health Organisation asks if it declared the outbreak a pandemic too soon.

Mexico City -- Mexico reported two more swine flu deaths on Tuesday, as World Health Organisation scientists asked if it moved too quickly to declare the outbreak a pandemic.

Authorities in Mexico said the death toll rose to 85, and infected cases rose to 4,721 with scientists advancing through accumulated samples.

New cases were reported across the globe, as A(H1N1) cases worldwide rose to nearly 13,000.

The virus caused 92 deaths and infected 12,954 people in 46 countries since it was first uncovered in April, according to the WHO's latest figures.

With the continued spread of the disease, the WHO asked scientists to help clarify the criteria needed for declaring a pandemic, amid concern the response of the Geneva-headquartered body may have caused undue fear and disruption.

"We are trying to see what kind of adjustments must be made to make sure that the definitions really meet the situation," said World Health Organisation interim Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda.

The move follows appeals by several countries for more caution before moving up a step from the current phase five alert to declaring a pandemic for the new A(H1N1) virus.

In many parts of the world the outbreak hurt trade, and the economic losses are only now becoming clearer.

On Tuesday, Mexican restaurant owners said around 6,500 eateries remained definitively closed due to losses made during the swine flu epidemic, involving the loss of more than 55,000 jobs.

But the virus continued to spread.

The Gulf kingdom of Bahrain reported its first confirmed case, the second state in the Gulf region hit by the disease.

"The first case is a young Bahraini man of 21 who has returned from studying in New York," health ministry spokesman Adel Abdullah told AFP.

Britain revealed an outbreak of 47 new cases, nearly all of them linked to a school in the West Midlands of England, while Greece reported its second flu victim, a 21-year-old man.

Other new cases surfaced Tuesday in Asia with South Korea now having 27 people infected and Hong Kong reporting its 10th victim.

For travellers, the spread of swine flu disrupted many travel plans.

More than 2,000 passengers on a cruise ship in Australia found themselves grounded and asked to quarantine themselves for a week after eight passengers and a crew member tested positive for the A(H1N1) virus.

"We are all requesting that all people onboard this ship remain in quarantine for seven days," New South Wales chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters after the Pacific Dawn ended its South Pacific cruise in Sydney.

That delayed the ship's next departure for the Great Barrier Reef, but passengers accepted the inconvenience.

"We'd be complaining if we all got sick, and the recycling air conditioning doesn't help flu and all the rest of it," one passenger told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In Russia, the suspicion of swine flu sent passengers home.

A US charter plane with five passengers and two crew members turned back from a remote airport in eastern Russia after local medical officials said they suspected a case of swine flu on board, RIA Novosti reported on Tuesday.

"During a sanitary check in the cabin of the plane ... doctors found one of the two crew members had an elevated temperature," a spokesman for the local branch of Russia's trade and sanitation watchdog told the agency.

The plane's pilot decided to turn around and fly back to the United States rather than submit to medical examinations locally.

Tuesday's WHO figures show the biggest growth in swine flu cases in the United States, with 212 more people infected, and one more death, bringing the US total to 6,764 and 12 deaths.

In Latin America the number of cases also rose, with El Salvador, Ecuador and Chile reporting new cases.

The WHO's Fukuda admitted it was possible the A(H1N1) influenza would continue to spread to other countries and would probably then be considered a pandemic.

The UN health agency wants to look more closely at how and when it should declare a flu outbreak as a pandemic, a phase six alert.

"But right now we're clearly in the early times of the evolution of this virus and we'll see where it goes," he added.

Under the current rules, phase six would involve a sustained geographical spread in another region of the Americas, where the virus first emerged in April.

AFP / Expatica

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