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More than 1,200 swine flu cases worldwide: WHO
'Level 6 does not mean that we are facing the end of the world:' WHO chief
Last Updated: Monday, May 4, 2009 | 6:51 PM ET
The number of confirmed cases of swine flu has risen to 1,200 in 20 countries, the World Health Organization said Monday, after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the health agency has no immediate plans to raise its pandemic alert to the highest level.
Keiji Fukuda, the UN health agency's acting assistant director general, told reporters on Monday the WHO has concerns about the infection travelling to the southern hemisphere as that part of the world heads into the winter months, when influenza viruses usually occur.
The largest number of H1N1 flu cases reported are in North America, Fukuda said, while new cases being reported in Europe are related to travel. He said there is still no evidence of community-level spreading of the virus in Europe and Asia.
"We're not quite certain how this is going to evolve," Fukuda said during a video teleconference from Geneva. "There is always uncertainty about the evolution of a new disease as it spreads worldwide."
This season it is recommended that doctors prescribe rimantidine along with Tamiflu because this year’s strain of flu is resistant to Tamiflu.
Earlier this year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory recommending for doctors, saying that doctors should treat patients with flu with a combination of Tamiflu and other drugs. More than half of the flu viruses that have been analyzed in the U.S. this season are of the H1N1 strain, which makes them Tamiflu-resistant. Last year only 11 percent of the most common flu strains were resistant to Tamiflu.
Given this situation, H1N1, the strain resistant to common anti-flu treatment could become the dominant strain this season
Influenza and its additional complications, such as pneumonia, cause 250,000 to 500,000 deaths annually, according to WHO.
One oddity in the outbreak is that this swine flu has affected mostly younger patients, CDC officials confirmed. Of the confirmed cases in the U.S., two thirds are under 18.The original H1N1 virus behind the deadly 1918 pandemic likely circulated among humans continuously until the 1950s, and then disappeared by 1957, according to the CDC. Researchers said they are trying to determine whether people born prior to 1957 have an immunity to the H1N1 virus.
As for learning how the virus will behave at the peak of flu season this fall, officials are turning to Australia and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere to observe the start of the winter flu season there. "That will tell us a lot about whether the virus is changing," Besser said. "And what measures we might want to take in the fall."
So far, 99 percent of suspected cases tested for follow-up are confirmed, the CDC said