'The virus is unstoppable,' WHO director says; U.S. health officials caution that declaration means virus hasn't gotten more severe, just more widespread
THURSDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the first flu pandemic since 1968, triggered by the rapid spread of the H1N1 virus across North America, Australia, South America, Europe and regions beyond.
WHO director Dr. Margaret Chan made the much-anticipated announcement immediately after an emergency teleconference with flu experts from a number of countries.
"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan said in Geneva, according to the Associated Press. "The [swine flu] virus is now unstoppable."
The declaration pushes the WHO alert status on the outbreak from phase 5, where it had remained for weeks, to the highest level, phase 6, as the number of swine flu cases hit close to 30,000 in the United States, Europe, South America and Australia.
The rapid spread of cases in Australia, where they rose by more than 1,000 on Monday, appeared to fit a key criteria for declaring a global pandemic -- if at least two regions of the world are hit.
On Thursday, WHO said 74 countries have now reported 28,774 cases of swine flu, including 144 deaths, the AP reported.
U.S. health officials on Thursday were not surprised by the pandemic announcement. "It's based on the data," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during an afternoon press conference.
But, he added, "this does not mean there is any difference in the severity of the flu. There has been no change in the virus."
"Here in the United States, we have been responding as if it were a pandemic already," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, added.
What the pandemic declaration means,
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