WHO declares US, Mexico swine flu a public health emergency

Washington/Geneva, April 26 (Inditop) The Geneva-based World Health Organisation Saturday declared the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and the US a “public health emergency of international concern”.

At least 20 deaths in Mexico have been confirmed as swine flu, among a total of 60 deaths that have occurred there. Hundreds of more non-fatal cases have been reported, and schools, museums and other public places have been closed to prevent the spread.

In the US, at least eight cases in Texas and California have been confirmed by the US Centres for Disease Control.

On Saturday, the New York City public health commissioner said about 75 students at a high school in the Queens are ill after their “likely” exposure to swine flu. The specimens were being sent to the US Centres for Disease Control for confirmation.

Gregory Hartl of WHO told CNN that the news of cases in New York and possibly Kansas “is amplifying, reinforcing the concern we have that the spread of this virus … could potentially be a pandemic virus”.

The declaration of an emergency in Geneva was given in a statement issued by WHO director general Margaret Chan on WHO’s website.

The events in Mexico and US prompted her to convene a meeting of the “emergency committee”, which reviewed the data and identified “a number of gaps in knowledge” about the epidemiology of the illnesses.

“The Committee nevertheless agreed that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” her statement said.

Hartl explained that the declaration was a legal device that enables WHO to alert the rest of the world to start looking for evidence of the disease.