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Swine Flu Spreads Worldwide; Work on Vaccines Continues

The World Health Organization says one of its highest priorities is to furnish developing countries with vaccines against the H1N1-swine flu virus. WHO says it hopes the first vaccines will be available in early Autumn before the winter cold sets in, in the Northern Hemisphere.

The World Health Organization has stopped tabulating the number of cases of people who reportedly have become sick with H1N1, because it says these numbers are unreliable. However, it urges countries to continue to report laboratory confirmed deaths.

WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, says there were more than 130,000 laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu before WHO stopped reporting and nearly 800 deaths. He says there probably are hundreds of thousands of cases by now.

"And, the more cases we have, unfortunately, the more deaths you will see too," said Hartl. "But, it does not mean that the virus has necessarily changed and it has not so far. That is not to say that come the winter, when we certainly expect activity to increase because influenza viruses, as we know, always circulate better in colder weather, we do have to be aware that there could be changes and we have to be prepared for those."

Hartl says young people and adolescents are still most susceptible to getting sick. But, he says the severest cases of swine flu appear to be among older people.

He says some pharmaceutical companies have begun clinical trials of H1N1 vaccines. He says it is hoped the vaccines will be available by early Autumn, in time for the new flu season in the Northern Hemisphere.

He says two drug companies have promised to contribute 150 million doses of vaccine to the World Health Organization. He says WHO is also working with a range of different partners to secure more vaccines for developing countries. He says distribution of the vaccines would begin in the least developed countries.

"The main priority for vaccination in those countries would be health care workers because health care workers are the most exposed, obviously," said Hartl. "And, if they fall sick, the whole health care system breaks down and nobody else can get treated either."

"And, after that each country is then given a menu of other groups, which it might consider vaccinating in terms or in line with the strategy it wants to try to implement in terms of slowing down the spread of the virus or protecting specific risk groups," he added.

Several pharmaceutical companies have indicated they would not give free vaccines to developing countries, but would consider lowering prices for them. Hartl says WHO would, of course, be please to receive vaccine donations. But, if that is not possible, he says the health agency will negotiate the best price possible.