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WHO: H1N1 Influenza Pandemic to Last Another Year

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, predicts the H1N1 swine flu virus is likely to continue circulating around the world for another year. She warns nations must remain vigilant because the H1N1 virus could mutate into a more dangerous form.

Chan says impressive progress has been made in areas such as treatment for HIV/AIDS, in the large number of lives saved among children under five and in significant cuts in deaths from malaria and measles.

But, she warns this progress is fragile. She says the momentum for health development could come to a grinding halt because of problems stemming from the food and financial crises, the changing climate and the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

"Just imagine, a severe pandemic coming at such a fragile time in a world where there are many people suffering from chronic diseases like heart disease, lung disease, including asthma, cancers, with many more people suffering from HIV, obesity and the list goes on," she said.

The World Health Organization reports H1N1 has spread to more than 200 countries, with nearly 12,000 laboratory confirmed deaths. Chan says it is likely this death toll is greatly underestimated. She says it probably will take about two years after the pandemic has ended for the true figure to be established.

She says the pandemic has peaked in many countries, including the United States, Canada and parts of Europe. But, she notes it is gaining in intensity in other parts of the world such as Egypt and India.

"I think it is too premature and too early for us to say we have come to an end of the pandemic influenza worldwide," she said. "It would be prudent and appropriate for WHO, together with our member States to continue to monitor the evolution of this pandemic for the next six to 12 months," she added.

Chan says governments around the world are far more prepared to deal with a pandemic now than they were five years ago when the far more lethal H5N1 Avian Flu was circulating.

She adds it is fortunate the current H1N1 pandemic is moderate because the world is not prepared to deal with such a toxic and deadly virus.

WHO chief Chan urges people not to become complacent because of the relatively mild nature of the H1N1 pandemic. She says people must keep up their guard against the virus, which is unpredictable and could change into a far more dangerous form.