Monday, June 1, 2009

Swine Flu Cases in Australia May Prompt Pandemic Call

Swine flu cases in Australia, doubling about every two days, may convince the World Health Organization to declare the first influenza pandemic in 41 years, said Raina MacIntyre, head of public health at the University of New South Wales.

Australia has 401 confirmed cases of the new H1N1 influenza strain, the Department of Health and Ageing in Canberra said in a statement today. The tally, the highest outside North America, has risen from 20 on May 25.

Victoria has 306 cases, up from 173 two days earlier, reflecting the spread of the virus within communities in the southeastern state. Evidence that swine flu has gained a foothold in Australia may compel WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to raise the pandemic alert to the highest of the agency’s six-step system, MacIntyre said in a telephone interview today.

“It must be fairly close to moving into phase 6,” said MacIntyre, who is also professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at the university in Sydney. “It’s clearly spreading in the community in Victoria.”

Disease trackers are looking for evidence of sustained, community transmission of the pig-derived virus outside North America to meet the WHO’s criteria for a pandemic. Such a global epidemic occurs when a new flu strain, to which most people have no immunity, appears and spreads worldwide.

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