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Nearly 2,840 deaths attributed to H1N1 virus, reports UN health agency

4 September 2009 – There are now at least 2,837 deaths attributable to the pandemic H1N1 which continues to be the predominant circulating virus of influenza both in the northern and southern hemispheres, the United Nations health agency reported today.

Gregory Hartl of the World Health Organization (WHO) told a news conference in Geneva that there are also at least 254,000 laboratory confirmed cases of the virus, adding that this number far understated the actual number of cases.

“With the virus circulating so widely around the world, it is unfortunately to be expected that there will be deaths as the volume of cases and deaths is increasing,” he said.

At the same time, there is no indication that the virus has mutated or changed its behaviour, said Mr. Hartl, noting that the virus is not causing more severe illness than before.

According to the latest update issued by WHO, tropical regions of South and South-East Asia continue to experience geographically regional or widespread influenza activity (India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia).

Many countries in the region are reporting increasing or sustained high levels of respiratory disease, and a few, including Thailand and Brunei Darussalam, have begun to report a declining trend in the level of respiratory diseases.

Although many countries in temperate regions of the southern hemisphere (Chile, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand) have passed the peak of their winter influenza epidemic, sustained influenza activity continues to be reported in South Africa and in the southern and western parts of Australia, noted WHO.

Meanwhile, in Canada and the United States, influenza activity remains low overall. However, regional increases are being detected in the south-eastern United States.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro noted that countries, supported by the UN, have been preparing for the pandemic and it is vital to sustain these efforts.

“There is a risk that if we do not sustain preparedness, or we do not strengthen response mechanisms, health systems will be severely affected, especially in developing countries that are challenged with many other problems as well,” she said in an interview with UN Radio.

Ms. Migiro said that by the end of August, the H1N1 virus had been confirmed in 20 African countries, particularly in South Africa. “Why it has not spread that much is because that we are not really starting from zero with this pandemic,” she stated, adding that global responses to influenza over the past few years has helped to strengthen preparedness and response systems.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed the UN response to the H1N1 pandemic today during a meeting with WHO Director General Margaret Chan in Geneva, the last stop of a three-nation trip that also took the UN chief to Austria and Norway.

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