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Virus has spread to almost every country, says WHO


Latest update : 2009-07-26

World Health Organisation spokesman Gregory Hartl announced on Friday that the influenza A (H1N1) virus has affected 160 of 193 WHO member states. The WHO announced that a vaccine should be available in September.

AFP - Swine flu has spread to nearly every corner of the globe, the World Health Organisation said Friday, admitting it was still unknown how the virus would mutate in the northern hemisphere's winter.

With the death toll still rising rapidly and countries rushing out new ways to check the spread of A(H1N1), the United Nations agency said it was only a matter of time before the pandemic which began in March affected every country.

"The spread of this virus continues, if you see 160 out of 193 WHO member states now have cases, so we are nearing almost 100 percent but not quite yet," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told a media briefing at the organisation's Geneva headquarters.

Hartl added that the A(H1N1) virus, which the WHO declared a pandemic in June, has resulted in around 800 deaths. Earlier this week, the agency had put the figure at over 700.

Hartl said it was not possible to give a death rate for the virus, given that "we don't have the exact numerator or denominator."

Most of the deaths have been concentrated in the Americas, with the United States, Argentina and Mexico the three countries to have recorded the highest number of fatalities.

Around 30 people have been killed in Britain and fears of the disease spreading have led authorities in India, China, Singapore and Egypt to quarantine at least 160 Britons, according to the foreign office in London.

Meanwhile Japan's health ministry announced Friday that the number of swine flu cases had topped 5,000.

And researchers in New Zealand said that up to 79 percent of the population could become infected, although only two-thirds of those may show symptoms.

Health experts have long warned the infections seen so far represent the tip of the iceberg and the situation is likely to worsen dramatically when the northern hemisphere enters the traditional flu season at the end of the year.

Hartl warned there remained many unknowns about the virus, adding that it was unknown how the virus would mutate at the height of the flu seasons given that it broke out in the northern hemisphere's spring.

"We don't know how the virus will change going forward," he said.

"There are many questions to which we don't have the answer."

Britain's struggles to cope with the virus were highlighted when a seriously ill expectant woman who has swine flu was flown to Sweden for treatment because of a shortage of specialist beds in her homeland.

The 26-year-old needed treatment that involves pumping the patient's blood through a machine which artificially adds oxygen.

There are five specialist beds in Britain for the technique, known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), at a hospital in Leicester, central England, but they are currently all taken, so officials decided to fly the woman to Stockholm instead.

"Once an ECMO bed was identified in Sweden, our intensive care specialists worked closely with our Swedish colleagues to make sure the patient was stable before being transferred," said Robert Masterton, executive director of her local National Health Service board in Ayrshire and Arran, western Scotland.

Britain, where 100,000 new cases were diagnosed last week, launched an Internet and phone service Thursday to help people identify symptoms and order drugs. The website recorded around 9.3 million hits an hour on its first day.

France is also struggling to cope with the crisis and has now told patients with flu symptoms not to check into hospital or call the emergency services but to contact their normal family doctor.

The crisis has prompted governments and corporations to stockpile anti-virals with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche reporting that sales of Tamiflu soared 203 percent in the first six months of 2009.

Elsewhere in Europe, Spanish authorities reported the country's fifth death linked to swine flu and described the victim as a 45-year-old man with underlying health problems.

Date created : 2009-07-24