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Victoria could tip world into swine flu pandemic

Agence France-Presse

June 10, 2009 07:42am

THE World Health Organisation says the rise in cases in Victoria has moved the world "very very close" to a pandemic.

Australia now has 1224 cases, with 1011 in Victoria. Five new cases were reported overnight in Queensland. The nation's swine flu alert level could be raised today after a meeting of chief health officers in Sydney.

The World Health Organisation has so far left its six-level pandemic alert scale unchanged at phase five, signalling that a pandemic is "imminent". One key criteria for a move to the phase six alert is community spread in a country outside the first region in which the disease was initially reported, in this case, outside the Americas.

It will be the first time the WHO has announced a pandemic in 41 years.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general, said the world is "getting very, very close" to a pandemic, noting that there is now "a great deal of activity in Victoria at the community level". He added that the WHO is "working hard on preparing countries... on what a move to a pandemic would entail".

There are now 26,563 influenza A (H1N1) cases worldwide, and 140 people have died from the virus.

Last month the WHO said it had sent three "seed viruses" to drug companies for use in making a vaccine against the new strain of influenza. Dr Fukuda said the pharmaceutical industry should be ready to produce a preventive vaccine by the end of June or early July.

Mexico will host an international summit on swine flu at the Caribbean beach resort of Cancun in July. Representatives from 40 countries, and the directors general of the WHO and the Pan American Health Organisation will take part in the summit from July 1 to 3.

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