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WHO confirms nearly 1,000 flu cases in 20 countries

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) said today that its laboratories have identified a total of 985 H1N1 flu infections in 20 countries, including El Salvador and Colombia, and said there have been 25 confirmed deaths in Mexico.

The WHO's toll lags national reports about the virus but is considered more scientifically secure. Its figures about Mexico -- considered the epicentre of the outbreak -- have been rising in recent days because of lab results on previously-collected samples coming in, not because of new infections reported.

Its most recent figures say that 590 people have been infected in Mexico, and 226 people have been infected in the United States, the two countries most affected by the virus widely known as swine flu. There has also been one US death, identified by authorities there as a Mexican infant.

The WHO has also confirmed flu infections, without deaths, in the following countries: Austria (1), Canada (85), Hong Kong - China Region (1), Costa Rica (1), Colombia (1), Denmark (1), El Salvador (2), France (2), Germany (8), Ireland (1), Israel (3), Italy (1) Netherlands (1), New Zealand (4), South Korea (1), Spain (40), Switzerland (1) and Britain (15).

The WHO is waiting to see evidence of sustained spread of the virus outside of the Americas region before raising its global alert level from 5 to the highest level, 6, and declaring a full pandemic.

Asked yesterday about the relatively large number of infections confirmed in Spain, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said most of those appeared to be "imported" cases involving people returning from Mexico, the disease epicentre, and not a situation where the virus was spreading widely through the Spanish population.


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