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WHO Chief Calls for Continued Vigilance on H1N1 Flu


The chief of the World Health Organization warns communities to be vigilant so they can limit the effects of H1N1 flu outbreaks. The warning comes as health ministers and officials from the Asia-Pacific region are meeting in Bangkok.

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan says the H1N1 flu virus has weakened, but remains a serious health risk. She urged health officials around the world to be on guard for fresh outbreaks.

Although the WHO no longer considers the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, a pandemic disease, Chan says outbreaks will go on for some time.

"In the current post-pandemic period we expect to see localized outbreaks of different magnitude and some continuing 'hot spots' would experience high levels of H1N1 infections," said Chan. "This pattern is indeed being seen in a few parts of the world including Southeast Asia. Let me remind you the pandemic virus has not gone away."

She spoke at the opening of the WHO's four-day meeting with health ministers from Asia and the Pacific. Chan says the WHO expects the H1N1 virus to become a seasonal flu and it remains a threat especially to the young and to pregnant women.

The virus was first identified last year in Mexico. It quickly swept the world, causing governments to impose measures such as quarantines to reduce its spread. Although it proved to be less severe than originally feared, it claimed thousands of lives worldwide.

Although outbreaks have slowed, in recent weeks Asia-Pacific region countries have reported new cases, linked to the winter in the southern hemisphere and monsoon rains in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

New cases were reported in Australia and New Zealand - both still gripped by wintery weather. In Thailand, health officials this week said the H1N1 infections could near the number seen last year.

Health official in India this week reported H1N1 cases in New Delhi, the cities of Udaipur and Jaipur and in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Chan praised India's response to the outbreaks.

"Protecting high-risk groups and maintaining vigilance are recommended actions. Some countries are continuing to protect high-risk groups with pandemic vaccine and this policy is fully in line with WHO recommendations," said Chan. "In fact, the actions of health authorities in India in terms of vigilance, quick detection and treatment and recommended vaccinations provide a good model."

Officials at the Bangkok meeting also are discussing health issues tied to growing urbanization. Officials say larger, more crowded cities face growing hazards. They include water and food contamination, and unhealthy lifestyles leading to obesity and chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

Other issues on the agenda include inequities in health systems, food safety, and the effort to eliminate measles and polio.

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