WHO Mulls Pandemic Threshold as Swine Flu Cases Near 13,000

MEXICO CITY ~ Mexico reported two more swine flu deaths this week as World Health Organization scientists asked if it had moved too quickly to declare the outbreak a pandemic.

Authorities in Mexico said the death toll had risen to 85, and infected cases rose to 4,721 with scientists advancing through a backlog of samples.

New cases were reported across the globe, as A(H1N1) cases worldwide soared to nearly 13,000.

The virus has caused 92 deaths and infected 12,954 people in 46 countries since it was first uncovered last month, according to the WHO’s latest figures.

With the continued spread of the disease, the WHO enlisted scientists to help clear up the criteria needed for declaring a pandemic, amid concern the response of the Geneva headquartered body may have caused undue fear and disruption.

“We are trying to see what kind of adjustments must be made to make sure that the definitions really meet the situation,” said World Health Organization interim Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda.

The move follows appeals by several countries for more caution before moving up a step from the current phase five alert to declaring a pandemic for the new A(H1N1) virus.

In many parts of the world the outbreak has hit trade, and the economic losses are only now becoming clearer.

On Tuesday, Mexican restaurant owners said around 6,500 eateries remained definitively closed due to losses made during the swine flu epidemic, involving the loss of more than 55,000 jobs.

But the virus continued its march.

The Gulf kingdom of Bahrain reported its first confirmed case, the second state in the Gulf region hit by the disease.

“The first case is a young Bahraini man of 21 who has returned from studying in New York,” health ministry spokesman Adel Abdullah said.

Britain revealed an outbreak of 47 new cases, nearly all of them linked to a school in the West Midlands of England, while Greece reported its second flu victim, a 21-year-old man.

Other new cases surfaced in Asia, with South Korea now having 27 people infected and Hong Kong reporting its 10th victim.

For travellers, the spread of swine flu around the globe has disrupted many travel plans.

More than 2,000 passengers on a cruise ship in Australia found themselves grounded and asked to quarantine themselves for a week after eight passengers and a crew member tested positive for the A(H1N1) virus.

“We are all requesting that all people onboard this ship remain in quarantine for seven days,” New South Wales chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters after the Pacific Dawn ended its South Pacific cruise in Sydney.

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