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: June 10, 2009, 12:35:50 PM


Australia flu 'may tip pandemic' 
A sharp increase in swine flu cases in Australia may mean the infection has become a pandemic, the World Health Organization says.

For that to happen, officials would have to verify that the disease had become established outside North America, where the crisis began.

"Once I get indisputable evidence, I will make the announcement," said WHO director general, Margaret Chan.

More than 1,200 people have contracted the virus in Australia - none fatally.

The total means Australia has seen a four-fold increase in a week.

Less than a month ago the country had only a handful of cases of the H1N1 virus but it now has the highest number of infections outside North America.

Victoria and the state capital, Melbourne, are the worst-hit with more than 1,000 confirmed cases.

Most of those affected are suffering only a mild illness, but the Health Minister of Australia's Queenland state, Paul Lucas, has warned that the contagious respiratory condition would inevitably claim lives.

It does not mean that the severity of the situation has increased

The head of the WHO's global influenza programme, Keiji Fukuda, said the stituation had "evolved a lot" in recent days.

"We are getting close to knowing that we are in a pandemic situation," he said.

But Dr Fukuda urged calm. "It 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 before," he said.

Following the major outbreaks in North America the flu alert is currently at phase five of a six-level scale.

The virus has infected more than 26,500 people in 73 countries.

The WHO held a conference call with governments on Wednesday, but afterwards said no decision had been taken on moving to phase six - the pandemic stage - at the moment.

Gregory Hartl, WHOs spokesperson for epidemic and pandemic diseases, said if a pandemic was announced it would not be the "apocalyptic situation" envisaged when bird flu looked liked it would be the cause.

"What we are seeing now with H1N1 is that in most cases the disease is self-limting, lets say 98-98% of the people we know to be affected recover without any need for hospitalisation, as far as we can tell.

"We do understand that the natural reaction of people if and when we declare phase six could be very strong.

"But we would hope that there would be quiet quickly an adjustment reaction, as happened in the US, when people realised they weren't getting seriously ill."

BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh says it is true that the word "pandemic" sounds scary. But it simply means a global epidemic of an infectious disease.

He says it is not a signal that the virus is getting more virulent - only a measure of its geographical spread.

As the number of H1N1 cases in Australia passes 1,200, Singapore has urged its citizens to avoid travel to Victoria.

Authorities in New South Wales and South Australia, as well as the national capital, Canberra, have told children who have recently travelled to Melbourne to stay away from school for a week on their return home.

The entire squad and staff of the Brisbane Broncos rugby league club have been put into quarantine as tests are carried out on a player suspected of contracting swine flu.



Hall of Famer

Posts : 27794
#1 : June 11, 2009, 12:50:26 PM

It's officially a pandemic now:


WHO: Swine flu pandemic has begun, 1st in 41 years

AP – A woman wearing a surgical face mask leaves a hospital in Buenos Aires, Wednesday, June 10, 2009. A flood … By MARIA CHENG and FRANK JORDANS, Associated Press Writers Maria Cheng And Frank Jordans, Associated Press Writers – 12 mins ago
GENEVA – The World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic Thursday — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years — as infections in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere climbed to nearly 30,000 cases.

The long-awaited pandemic announcement is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe. WHO will now ask drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine. The declaration will also prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.

WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan made the announcement Thursday after the U.N. agency held an emergency meeting with flu experts. Chan said she was moving the world to phase 6 — the agency's highest alert level — which means a pandemic, or global epidemic, is under way.

"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan told reporters. "The (swine flu) virus is now unstoppable."

On Wednesday, WHO said 74 countries had reported nearly 27,737 cases of swine flu, including 141 deaths. Chan described the virus as "moderate." According to WHO's pandemic criteria, a global outbreak has begun when a new flu virus begins spreading in two world regions.

The agency has stressed that most cases are mild and require no treatment, but the fear is that a rash of new infections could overwhelm hospitals and health authorities — especially in poorer countries.

Still, about half of the people who have died from swine flu were previously young and healthy — people who are not usually susceptible to flu. Swine flu is also crowding out regular flu viruses. Both features are typical of pandemic flu viruses.

The last pandemic — the Hong Kong flu of 1968 — killed about 1 million people. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

Swine flu is also continuing to spread during the start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Normally, flu viruses disappear with warm weather, but swine flu is proving to be resilient.

The decision might have been made much earlier if WHO had more accurate information about swine flu's rising sweep through Europe. Chan said she called the emergency meeting with flu experts after concerns were raised that some countries like Britain were not accurately reporting their cases.

After Thursday's meeting, Chan said the experts agreed there was wider spread of swine flu than what was being reported.

Chan would not say which country tipped the world into the pandemic, but said all countries and experts were agreed that it was time to declare a global outbreak.

WHO said it was now recommending that flu vaccine makers start making swine flu vaccine. Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC said they could start large-scale production of pandemic vaccine in July but that it would take several months before large quantities would be available.

Many health experts say WHO's pandemic declaration could have come weeks earlier but the agency became bogged down by politics. In May, several countries urged WHO not to declare a pandemic, fearing it would cause social and economic turmoil.

"This is WHO finally catching up with the facts," said Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota who has advised the U.S. government on pandemic preparations.

Despite WHO's hopes, Thursday's announcement will almost certainly spark panic about spread of swine flu in some countries.

Fear has already gripped Argentina, where thousands of people worried about swine flu flooded into hospitals this week, bringing emergency health services in the capital of Buenos Aires to the brink of collapse. Last month, a bus arriving in Argentina from Chile was stoned by people who thought a passenger on it had swine flu. Chile has the most swine flu cases in South America, just as the southern hemisphere moves into its winter flu season.

In Hong Kong on Thursday, the government ordered all kindergartens and primary schools closed for two weeks after a dozen students tested positive for swine flu — a move that many flu experts would consider an overreaction. The decision affected over half a million students.

In the United States, where there have been more than 13,000 cases and at least 27 deaths from swine flu, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the move would not change how the U.S. tackled swine flu.

"Our actions in the past month have been as if there was a pandemic in this country," Glen Nowak, a CDC spokesman, said Thursday.

The U.S. government has already taken steps like increasing availability of flu-fighting medicines and authorizing $1 billion for the development of a new vaccine against the novel virus. In addition, new cases seem to be declining in many parts of the country, U.S. health officials say, as North America moves out of its traditional

In Mexico, where the epidemic was first detected, the outbreak peaked in April. Mexico now has less than 30 cases reported a day, down from an average of 300, Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova told The Associated Press. Mexico has confirmed 6,337 cases, including 108 deaths.

A resurgence is unlikely but Cordova said a second wave of the virus in November or December could not be ruled out.

Cordova said he is concerned that other countries are not taking drastic measures to stop its spread like Mexico, which closed schools, restaurants, theaters, and canceled public events after the government detected the epidemic in late April.

Many experts said the declaration of a pandemic did not mean the virus was getting deadlier.

"People might imagine a virus is now going to rush in and kill everyone," said John Oxford, a professor of virology at St. Bart's and Royal London Hospital. "That's not going to happen."

But Oxford said the swine flu virus might evolve into a more dangerous strain in the future. "That is always a possibility with influenza viruses," he said. "We have to watch very carefully to see what this virus does."


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Posts : 8294
#2 : June 11, 2009, 01:00:53 PM

Scare tactics at their finest
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