Swine flu toll up sharply in Latin America
Argentina reported a sharp spike in deaths from swine flu as cases jumped across Latin America and more countries worldwide coped with their first fatalities.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday moved to assuage safety concerns over vaccines for pandemic influenza as nations geared up for massive campaigns to try and protect millions of people from the virus.
Argentinian officials said deaths from A(H1N1) had more than doubled to 337 from 165 two weeks ago, which puts the country second only to the United States with 353 confirmed deaths.
"We have confirmed 337 deaths by A(H1N1) flu," Argentina's deputy health minister Maximo Diosque said on Wednesday.
"We have a similar number, of around 400 cases, that are in the process of being confirmed," he said, adding that more than 700,000 of the 763,000 flu cases detected in the country were A(H1N1).
Mexico, the epicentre for swine flu, also reported a sharp increase in cases after an apparent easing in recent weeks had seemed an encouraging sign that the worst might be over for the moment.
Many experts fear that while swine flu causes relatively mild symptoms in most healthy adults, it could easily mutate into a much more severe strain, especially during the northern hemisphere winter when the flu usually takes its greatest toll.
Thus far, pregnant women and young adults are reported to suffer the most from swine flu, alongside people with serious underlying health problems.
While the death toll in Mexico remained unchanged at 146, the health ministry said almost 1,000 fresh cases had been confirmed in just five days, taking the total soaring above 17,000.
Since the virus first emerged in Mexico in April, it has spread globally, reaching pandemic level and affecting nearly every country in the world, according to the WHO.
The UN body said Wednesday that its tally of swine flu deaths had risen to 1,154 from the 816 announced on July 27, and the illness was now found in 168 countries and territories.
So far, the Americas have been hit hardest with nearly 90 percent of all reported swine flu deaths.
= Some experts are describing the global effort to produce and distribute a new A(H1N1) vaccine before the northern fall-winter period as the largest of its kind in history.
On Thursday the WHO posted a statement on its website seeking to assure the public "that regulatory procedures in place for the licensing of pandemic vaccines, including procedures for expediting regulatory approval, are rigorous and do not compromise safety or quality controls.
"Vaccines are among the most important medical interventions for reducing illness and deaths during a pandemic," WHO said. "However, to have the greatest impact, pandemic vaccines need to be available quickly and in large quantities."
As of July 31, Azerbaijan, Gabon, Grenada, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Monaco, Nauru, Swaziland, and Suriname joined the list of infected.
The Netherlands and Vietnam joined the growing list of countries with fatalities from the pandemic, while three new deaths each, not yet confirmed by the WHO, were reported on Tuesday in Costa Rica and in El Salvador, and on Wednesday two more in Ecuador and one more in Israel.
Peru has reported five deaths since Tuesday, raising its total to 35, while Chile's death toll from the virus stood at 87.
Health authorities in three states in Brazil confirmed 40 new deaths from the virus, bringing the country's death toll to 131.
Greece reported Wednesday that A(H1N1) cases surged by 272 in the past week, bringing the total number of people infected to nearly 1,000 in the country.
There were two deaths in Saudi Arabia while in war-torn Iraq the authorities quarantined a hotel in the holy Shiite city of Karbala after a Saudi pilgrim staying there tested positive for swine flu.
Iran on Wednesday imposed a ban on all pilgrimages to the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia during the fasting month of Ramadan, the latest move by some Muslim countries retricting the pilgrimages amid fears about the risk of swine flu contagion if large numbers congregate there and then return home.
India and South Africa had both reported their first fatalities from the A(H1N1) virus late on Monday.
Panic-stricken Indians queued outside hospitals Thursday in the western city of Pune as residents rushed to be tested after the Monday report.