[health-vn] WHO chief warns against false security about flu
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Sat May 16 05:11:07 EST 2009
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WHO chief warns against false security about flu
Fri May 15, 2009 7:21am EDT
* WHO chief says too early to relax about flu outbreaks
* Margaret Chan calls for fast sharing of H1N1 virus samples
* Warns newly-discovered strain may have global implications
* Parts of Southeast Asia seen at particular threat
(Adds comments on vaccine production, latest WHO tally)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, May 15 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation warned on Friday
against a false sense of security from waning and apparently mild outbreaks of
H1N1 flu, saying the worst may not be over. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan,
who raised the United Nations agency's pandemic alert to the second-highest
level, said there remained "great uncertainty" about the strain that could pose
particular threats in Southeast Asia.
"We are meeting at a time of crisis that could have global implications," she
told an intergovernmental meeting on pandemic preparedness at the WHO's Geneva
The meeting is tackling the sensitive question of virus sharing, in which
countries provide biological specimens to the international community for use by
pharmaceutical companies and vaccine makers who are formulating jab ingredients.
At the height of fears about bird flu, Indonesia had refused to share H5N1 virus
samples without guarantees that any vaccines developed from them would be made
available to poorer countries at an affordable price.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), Sanofi-Aventis SASY.O, Novartis (NOVN.VX), Baxter
International (BAX.N) and other pharmaceutical companies others are awaiting WHO
guidance about whether to start mass-producing vaccines to fight H1N1, which may
force them to cut production of seasonal flu shots.
Chan said she would make a recommendation soon about the appropriate balance
between the types of jabs.
"We are moving on two tracks to ensure some security for seasonal vaccine and at
the same time kick-starting early scientific work for pandemic vaccine," she
told the session.
The WHO chief commended countries with H1N1 infections for their "timely sharing
of samples for risk assessment and making seed vaccine," saying that starting
point for larger production of jabs could be ready by the end of this month.
And another top official, acting WHO director-general Keiji Fukuda, said there
had been "rapid, widespread sharing of specimens" to date.
Participants in the two-day WHO meeting are seeking to reach agreement on
standards for transparency, trust, and sovereignty related to virus sample
sharing, an issue that is also expected to dominate next week's annual World
Health Assembly in Geneva.
"I hope the end result is something really balanced that we can use for a long
time," Fukuda said.
According to the latest WHO count, some 7,520 people in 34 countries have been
infected with the strain that is a genetic mixture of swine, bird and human
viruses. Belgium was the latest addition to that official tally.
Mexico has experienced 60 deaths from the virus that has also killed three
people in the United States, one person in Canada and one in Costa Rica.
Most patients infected with the flu, which spreads like the seasonal flu through
sneezes, coughs and air droplets, have experienced mild symptoms and some appear
to be asymptomatic.
Antiviral drugs such as Roche's (ROG.VX) Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK.L)
Relenza are effective against the H1N1 strain. At present, however, the majority
of people catching it are able to recover without drug treatment.
The WHO's pandemic alert scale represents its views on the way a virus is
spreading, not the severity of its effects.
Evidence that H1N1 flu is spreading in a sustained way in communities outside of
the Americas would prompt Chan to push the global alert to the top of the
six-point scale and declare a full pandemic is underway.
The two European countries with the highest concentrations of cases are Spain
with 100 and Britain with 71.
The virus has made a much smaller impact so far in Asia, with 7 infections in
New Zealand, 4 in Japan, 4 in China and Hong Kong, 3 in South Korea and 2 in
Thailand. No cases have been reported in Africa and Israel is the sole Middle
Eastern state with WHO-confirmed infections, with 7.
Financial markets have already shrugged off fears about a possible pandemic, and
most people have returned to normal routines, with schools re-opened in infected
But Chan stressed that important risks remain.
She said the WHO is closely watching parts of Southeast Asia that saw large
outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu -- a virus that can be deadly when it passes from
birds to humans, but has not spread easily between people to date.
A mixture of H5N1 and H1N1 viruses could have a big impact, she said, while
stressing: "I am not saying it will happen." (Writing by Laura MacInnis; editing
by Myra MacDonald)
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