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H1N1 virus spreads to 160 countries
Number of H1N1 cases has doubled in last three weeks, World Health Organisation says.
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2009 15:41 GMT
Health officials are looking into ways to speed up the production of H1N1 vaccines [EPA]

The H1N1 flu virus has spread to at least 160 countries across the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

The global virus, which the UN health agency declared a pandemic in June, has resulted in nearly 800 deaths worldwide since it was first detected in Mexico four months ago, WHO officials said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday.

"The spread of this virus continues, if you see 160 out of 193 WHO member states now have cases, so we are nearing almost 100 per cent, but not quite yet," said Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman.

"For the moment we haven't seen any changes in the behaviour of the virus," he said.

"What we are seeing still is a geographic expansion across countries."

H1N1 cases double

The WHO says the number of H1N1 cases has doubled in the last three weeks, with most of the deaths from the virus concentrated in the Americas.

But the spread of the disease into other continents continues, as authorities in Britain announced more than 100,000 infections were diagnosed in the country last week.

Hartl said the pandemic strain is causing mainly mild symptoms, but he warned that the virus could mutate with the onset of colder temperatures in the northern hemisphere.

"We don't know how the virus will change going forward," he said.

"We do have to be aware that there could be changes and we have to be prepared for those."

Health officials and pharmaceutical companies are looking into ways to speed up production of an H1N1 vaccine before the northern hemisphere enters its flu season in the fall.

Hartl said he expects the first doses of a vaccine to be available for use in early autumn of the northern hemisphere.

New phenomenon

But Dr Keiji Fukuda, the assistant director-general of health security and environment at the WHO, warned that the situation will continue to change.

"Right now we're trying to get a handle on what is the real effect of the infection with this particular virus," he told Al Jazeera on Friday.

"We're dealing with a very new phenomenon, a new virus, a virus which is spreading to most countries in the world and over the next year, probably all countries," he said.

"In the current situation, most people who are getting infected develop mild illnesses ... they get better. However, what is of concern is we continue to see people die from the virus.

"What we want to know is, is this pattern going to change?"

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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