WHO warns of flu outbreak's 'pandemic potential'
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The head of the World Health Organisation says a new flu strain that has killed up to 68 people in Mexico and infected eight in the United States has the potential to cause a worldwide pandemic, though it is too early to determine whether it will.
Reuters - Outbreaks of swine flu in Mexico and the United States have the potential to cause a worldwide pandemic but it is too early to say whether they will, the head of the World Health Organisation said on Saturday.
"It has pandemic potential because it is infecting people," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said.
"However, we cannot say on the basis of currently available laboratory, epidemiological, and clinical evidence whether or not it will indeed cause a pandemic."
The new flu strain -- a mixture of swine, human and avian flu viruses which has killed up to 68 people among 1,004 suspected cases in Mexico and infected eight in the United States -- is still poorly understood and the situation is evolving quickly, Chan said on a teleconference.
An emergency committee of experts, convening shortly, will advise her about issues including possibly changing the WHO's pandemic alert level, currently 3 on a scale of 1 to 6.
It was "too premature at this stage" for the WHO to announce any travel advisories, as better analysis of the cases and other clinical data was required, she said.
"We do not yet have a complete picture of the epidemiology or the risk, including possible spread beyond the currently affected areas," Chan said. "Nonetheless, in the assessment of WHO, this is a serious situation."
It was also too soon for the U.N. agency to advise drugmakers to switch to producing a new vaccine -- to be derived from the new virus -- from their traditional production of seasonal influenza vaccines, she said.