May 7, 2009 / 7:49 AM / 10 years ago

WHO says worldwide H1N1 flu tally tops 2,000

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 2,000 people in 23 countries worldwide have now been infected with H1N1 flu, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

In its latest tally, which tends to lag national reports but is considered more secure, the U.N. agency said that 42 people in Mexico have died from the new strain that is a genetic mixture of swine, bird and human viruses.

Its previous toll had said there were 29 Mexican deaths.

The Mexican government has said the worst is over and eased restrictions on commercial and public activity in the country that has been at the epicentre of the outbreak.

The WHO’s latest flu tally — 2,099 cases worldwide — does not change the number of confirmed infections or deaths in the United States, which remain at 642 and 2, respectively.

It increased the number of infections in Canada to 201, from the previous toll of 165, with no reported deaths there.

European countries with cases confirmed in WHO laboratories include Spain (73), Britain (28), Germany (9), Italy (5), France (5), Portugal (1), Ireland (1), Netherlands (1), Austria (1), Denmark (1), Sweden (1), and Switzerland (1). Poland, where authorities confirmed a case late on Wednesday, is not yet part of the official tally.

The WHO has also confirmed the following infections in the rest of the world: New Zealand (5), Israel (4), South Korea (2), El Salvador (2), Hong Kong, China (1), Guatemala (1), Colombia (1) and Costa Rica (1).

Evidence that the disease, popularly known as swine flu, has taken hold in communities outside the Americas would prompt WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to declare a full pandemic.

Chan raised the global pandemic alert level last week to 5 out of 6 in response to the spread of H1N1 flu. Phase 5 means a pandemic is imminent.

Responding to a rash of trade bans imposed in response to the flu outbreak, which has also infected a herd of swine in Canada, the WHO and other international agencies on Thursday repeated their guidance that pork is safe to eat.

Cooking meat to a core temperature of 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) “will readily inactivate any viruses potentially present in raw meat products,” the WHO said in a joint statement along with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Existing safety checks and good hygiene also ensure that pork and products will not be a source of infection, for H1N1 or any other virus, the agencies said.

“Authorities and consumers should ensure that meat from sick pigs or pigs found dead are not processed or used for human consumption under any circumstances,” as per normal practices.

The WHO also repeated its guidance that international travel should not be restricted as a result of the outbreak.

“Individuals who are ill should delay travel plans and returning travellers who fall ill should seek appropriate medical care. These recommendations are prudent measures which can limit the spread of many communicable diseases, including influenza,” it said.

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