May 3rd, 2009 10:44 EST
UN: Preparedness Key To Fighting H1N1
UN NEWS CENTRE
The United Nations health agency today stressed the importance of preparedness for a possible global pandemic, as the number of laboratory confirmed cases of the influenza A(H1N1) infection topped 600 worldwide.
This is the time for us to prepare and be ready, Dr. Michael Ryan, Director of Global Alert and Response for the World Health Organization (WHO), told a news conference in Geneva.
Dr. Ryan noted that the agency``s pandemic alert remains at Phase 5 " on a six-level warning scale. This means that sustained human to human transmission had been confirmed, with widespread community outbreaks in at least two regions.
Pandemics are serious but it is important to note that Phase 6 describes geographic spread of the disease and not its severity, he stated. We do not know how severe or mild this pandemic might be.
According to the latest WHO update, 15 countries have reported 615 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection, with 17 deaths.
Mexico has reported a total of 397 confirmed cases, including 16 deaths. This includes 241 new laboratory confirmed cases and 7 new deaths since yesterday. The increased figures from Mexico reflect primarily ongoing testing of previously collected samples and not a surge in people falling sick, noted Dr. Ryan.
He said that while WHO has seen case reports from Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea, indicating the geographic spread of the disease, there is no evidence of sustained community spread outside North America.
The United States has reported 141 laboratory confirmed cases, including one death.
In addition, laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths have been reported by Austria (1), Canada (34), China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1), Denmark (1), France (1), Germany (4), Israel (2), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (4), Republic of Korea (1), Spain (13), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (13).
Dr. Ryan said WHO continues to monitor the spread of the virus and expand its understanding of its behaviour and severity.
At the same time, the agency is moving to a more operational stance to support countries in their readiness and response. It has begun to dispatch 2.4 million doses of antivirals to 72 countries, including Mexico, from stocks donated from Roche pharmaceutical company in 2005 and 2006. It will also supplement its regional stockpiles in the six WHO regions as a contingency for further supplies to countries.
In addition, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan is continuing discussions with Roche and others on how to best meet future needs of developing countries for antivirals, noted Dr. Ryan.
Obviously the biggest thing we face now is the possibility of a pandemic, said Dr. Ryan. Good preparedness will help us mitigate its effects should we work together in a coordinated and collective fashion.
WHO has reiterated that there is no risk of infection from the virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products.
The agency also advised individuals to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and to seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of influenza-like illness.