Swine flu pandemic declared

LATEST The World Health Organisation has told its member nations it is declaring a swine flu pandemic – the first global flu pandemic in 41 years.

In a statement sent to member countries, WHO said it decided to raise the pandemic alert level from phase 5 to 6, meaning that a global outbreak of swine flu has begun.

The decision was made after the UN health agency held an emergency meeting on swine flu with its experts.

Countries were preparing for tighter swine flu controls as some nations said they had received advance notice of the declaration from the WHO.

Moving to phase 6, the highest level, means a pandemic has begun. It triggers drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money to containing the virus.

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.

On Wednesday, the WHO reported that the virus has infected at least 27,737 people in 74 countries and caused 141 deaths. Most cases have been in North America, but Europe and Australia have seen a sharp increase in recent days.

Four patients with swine flu were fighting for their lives in Melbourne hospitals, while Thailand’s Public Health Ministry said the country’s case load had nearly tripled to 46, including 17 infected at a disco in the resort town of Pattaya.

Earlier there had been speculation that a  jump in infections in Australia could push WHO to finally announce a pandemic. Australia’s cases reached 1275 by late Wednesday.

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