THE number of worldwide swine flu cases passed 5,000, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as the virus spread to three more countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
And swine flu is likely to spread around the world in the next few months and infect one-third of the global population, according to the first detailed analysis of the spread of the virus published by British scientists yesterday.
The study by researchers at London’s Imperial College, published in the journal Science, found that swine flu has “full pandemic potential”, spreading easily from person to person and infecting around one in three of those who come into contact with it.
But the research’s author, Professor Neil Ferguson, said it was too early to say whether the virus will cause deaths on a massive scale, or prove little more lethal than normal seasonal flu.
The highest number of cases has been reported in the United States with 2,600 infections, including three deaths, and Mexico with 2,059 cases, including 56 deaths.
The global total stood at 5,251, the latest data posted on the WHO website showed.
Meanwhile the WHO defended its decision to raise the global pandemic alarm for swine flu following the outbreak of new influenza A(H1N1) last month.
The global health body’s acting assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda insisted the outbreak would have been more severe if the WHO had not raised its pandemic alert two weeks ago. “If countries had not been thinking about what to do in this kind of situation, the fact is we would have had much more confusion,” Fukuda said. “In many ways, the severity would have been greater.”
The WHO raised its alert to five on a scale of six two weeks ago, signalling that a pandemic was “imminent” after Mexico and the United States showed sustained local transmission of the influenza A(H1N1) virus.
With the WHO confirmed death toll at 61, Costa Rica reported its first fatality from the flu – believed to be a mix of bird and human flu which came together in pigs – and the United States confirmed a third death.
Three more countries reported their first cases of the virus.
Thailand’s first two cases were yesterday confirmed in patients who had travelled to Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak where authorities have put the death toll at 56. The WHO has only confirmed 48 of those deaths.
Finland confirmed its first two cases of swine flu yesterday while Canada confirmed 40 new cases, bringing the total number recorded by national authorities there to 331.
Cuba had earlier reported its first case in a Mexican student, one of a group of 14 Mexicans studying in Havana who were tested for the disease, according to the health ministry.
But attention was most focused on China, where authorities confirmed that a 30-year-old man was hospitalised with the virus after arriving in the south-western city of Chengdu on a flight from the US.
Most of the 5,251 laboratory-confirmed cases recorded by the WHO in some 30 countries have involved relatively mild symptoms and the virus has proved to be treatable with anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu so far.
Swine flu is certainly milder than the Spanish flu which caused an estimated 50 million deaths in 1918, but it is not yet possible to say whether it will kill more than the most recent pandemics in 1957 and 1968, Prof Ferguson said.
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