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September 5, 2009

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Swine flu deaths rise, but no risky mutations

THE H1N1 flu has killed at least 2,837 people but is not causing more severe illness than previously, and the virus has not mutated, the World Health Organization said yesterday.

The United Nations agency is monitoring the strain, commonly known as swine flu, to detect any mutation that might signal it has become more deadly.

"There is no sense that the virus has mutated or changed in any sense," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We are continuing to see increased numbers of deaths because we are seeing many, many more cases."

About a quarter of a million cases have been confirmed by laboratory tests worldwide, but the official figure is far fewer than the true number, according to the WHO, which has stopped requiring its 193 members to report individual cases.

Its previous update of August 28 showed at least 2,185 deaths, meaning an additional 652 deaths were reported in the past week.

The virus could eventually infect 2 billion people, or a third of the world's population, according to WHO estimates.

"In the best-case scenario we have today, we will still have a moderate virus that is projected to cause several million deaths," Dr Tammam Aloudat, senior health officer at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told a separate news briefing.

"Which means that even in the best-case scenario, we do have an emergency on our hands, an emergency of a scale different from what we have seen before in the modern era," he said as the federation launched an information campaign to help the poorest communities reduce infection through simple hygiene measures.

Many countries in South and Southeast Asia are reporting "increasing or sustained high levels of respiratory disease," although Thailand has reported a declining trend, according to the WHO's latest weekly update.

Japan is seeing an early start to its regular flu season.


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