By Nathan Gill and Jason Gale
June 11 (Bloomberg) — Leaders of six swine flu-infected countries have been briefed by the World Health Organization in preparation for a “probable change” in the agency’s level of pandemic alert, Chile’s health ministry said.
Officials in Australia, Chile, Japan, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S. were asked for information on cases and measures taken to mitigate the disease, known as H1N1, before the WHO moves to the top of its six-stage pandemic warning scale, Chile’s Health Minister Alvaro Erazo said in a statement yesterday.
The WHO will declare the first flu pandemic in 41 years sometime in the next 10 days, three people familiar with its plans said June 2. Margaret Chan, the agency’s director-general, is trying to navigate a delicate path between raising alarm about a virus that in most cases causes little more than a fever and a cough, and underestimating a bug that could kill millions.
“This is to date a less-severe illness than had been planned for,” Australia’s Health Minister Nicola Roxon told reporters in Melbourne today. “This is presenting somewhat of a challenge to the health communities and public health officials around the world because much of the pandemic planning was done on the assumption that the disease would have more virulence.”
An emergency committee of experts advising the Geneva-based agency will discuss the current swine flu threat at a meeting starting at noon Geneva time today, spokesman Dick Thompson said by telephone.
“WHO will be discussing their alert level,” Roxon said. Chan discussed late yesterday the swine flu situation with government leaders in Australia, the country with the most reported cases outside the Americas, she said.
Australia has 1,275 confirmed cases, with Victoria the worst-hit state with 1,011 infections, she said. The southeastern state upgraded its response to the outbreak earlier this month, acknowledging the spread of the virus is beyond prevention.
“Most of the cases in Australia have still been fairly mild, but the virus is not harmless,” Roxon said. Since last month, 25 people have had to be hospitalized, including four who are being treated in an intensive care ward in Victoria, she said.
Six schools and one childcare center in Australia have been closed to help stem transmission, Roxon said, adding that “school-age children seem to be the super-spreaders.”
Hong Kong Schools
Hong Kong suspended classes at all primary schools, kindergartens and childcare centers for 14 days from tomorrow because of swine flu, Chief Executive Donald Tsang said today.
The city will monitor developments closely and residents shouldn’t worry about the spread of the disease, he said in a televised press conference.
Those who have been hospitalized in Australia have generally had other pre-existing medical conditions such as morbid obesity or chronic respiratory disease, Roxon said. Almost 28,000 cases of swine flu have been confirmed worldwide, including 141 deaths.
“As this becomes more widespread across the world, not just in Australia, we will see people who have negative outcomes from this flu,” Roxon said. “Any type of flu can be dangerous if not treated properly.”
Chile, the country with the most infections outside North America, had 1,694 cases of swine flu as of June 9, up from 890 reported on June 5, the ministry said.
Two people have died from the disease in the country, where the number of cases has jumped fourfold since the weekend as officials began including cases reported by private clinics.