H1N1 Flu Pandemic appears "Imminent" Print
By Staff and Wire Reports   
Wednesday, 10 June 2009 10:31

The new H1N1 flu, a mixture of swine, bird and human viruses, has infected over 27,700 people in 74 countries, according to the World Health Organisation's latest tolls. The Organisation is consulting with the countries worst hit by swine flu Wednesday to assess if there is "undisputable" evidence the virus was being spread among locals, a spokeswoman said today.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong health authorities on Wednesday are reported the territory's first case of human swine flu where the person had caught the virus within the city.
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Thomas Tsang, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said the patient, a 55-year-old man, had caught the A(H1N1) virus at an event which another known swine flu patient had attended.

"He had no travel history during the incubation period. We find he had been at the same cocktail party function as the confirmed case on June 5," Tsang told reporters.

"I can confirm that the DG (director-general) is consulting with the ministries of health of seven or eight of the most affected countries to try to see if there is undisputable evidence of community spread," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told Agence France-Presse.

Australia has reported a sharp rise in cases since last week — to 1,260 by late Wednesday. Australian authorities say many cases cannot be traced back to travelers or common infection sites such as schools, indicating that — like in Mexico, the United States and Canada — the virus is becoming entrenched in communities.

Britain has reported 675 cases, but some outside health officials believe the country is not looking very hard for swine flu In recent weeks, three Greek students have returned home after catching swine flu in the U.K., proof the virus is spreading more widely than British authorities admit.

Britain's Health Protection Agency denies that swine flu is established in communities, but some health officials have published reports showing the virus is so widespread it is being exported to other countries. Last month, an article in the journal of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control detailed the case of the Greek students.

WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said WHO has seen media reports from several countries suggesting there are many more cases or wider transmission of the virus, but that the countries themselves are not reporting these cases.

"We're trying to resolve that conflict," Thompson said. "There could be an explanation that's not obvious, but we're trying to put the question directly to officials about why there are these differences in the numbers of cases being reported."

If swine flu is spreading rapidly from person to person beyond the Americas, this should trigger the conditions for WHO to declare a pandemic. But despite reports of hundreds of swine flu cases in Europe, Japan and Australia, the agency has dragged its feet on announcing a global outbreak.

Thompson said if WHO learns there is widespread transmission of swine flu, the agency may move quickly to declare a pandemic.

Many countries have asked WHO to hold off on such a declaration, fearing their citizens will be alarmed and confused and

governments will be pressured to institute costly and

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often ineffective measures like trade and
travel bans.

A senior WHO official said the world was "very, very close" to declaring an official swine flu pandemic and that the UN health agency was working to prepare countries for raising its alarm to the highest level.

"We are getting very, very close," Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general said then, noting that in Australia, there was now "a great deal of activity in Victoria at the community level."

Under the WHO's guidelines, one key criteria for declaring a pandemic would be established community spread in a country outside the first region in which the disease was initially reported, in this case, outside the Americas.

The WHO has so far left its six-level pandemic alert scale unchanged at phase five, signalling that a pandemic is "imminent."

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