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H1N1 Swine Flu Continues to Spread

The H1N1 swine flu virus continues to make its way around the world, with at least 8,800 cases now confirmed in 40 countries. On Monday, an assistant school principal in New York City died from the swine flu, making a total of six deaths reported in the U.S. The virus was at the top of the agenda this week, as health officials from 193 countries met for the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mexico has been the epicenter of the outbreak.

During the World Health Assembly, Mexico's Minister of Health Dr. Jose Angel Cordova was applauded when he spoke of his country's duty to warn others of what lies ahead. "Mexico alerted the rest of the world early to the risk of this epidemic," he said. "And in doing that we believe we have helped to give other countries the possibility to prepare."

The World Health Organization reports that 95 percent of the confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus are still in Mexico, the United States and Canada.

However, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom are now reporting more than one hundred cases each.

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, says for some time governments have known that preparedness was needed. "We have lived for five long years under the threat of pandemic caused by the lethal H5N1 avian influenza virus. This has left our world better prepared, but also, very scared," she said.

The influenza season is now underway in the southern hemisphere. Dr. Chan is predicting epidemics in several countries where the virus has been reported in that part of the world.

Because the new H1N1 strain spreads rapidly from person to person, researchers have been working furiously to produce a vaccine in case the virus regains strength and affects greater numbers of people.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says production of a new vaccine is not intended to disrupt production of a seasonal vaccine. "U.S. government agencies are working together in an unprecedented way to take the steps necessary to develop a vaccine against the H1N1 virus, should there be a need for it, and doing it in a way that ensures the production of seasonal flu vaccine continues," she said.

The World Health Organization estimates that as many as two billion doses of the swine flu vaccine might be produced. The vaccine may be ready in four to six months.