Australian swine flu spike could force WHO pandemic declaration

Australian rugby league star Karmichael Hunt is one of several players being tested for the H1N1 virus.
A sharp increase in the number of reported cases of the H1N1 virus in Australia may prompt the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the first global pandemic in over forty years.

The number of Australian cases of the virus, commonly known as swine flu, has reached more than 1,200, with state and federal medical officers set to hold an emergency meeting in Sydney to review the country’s swine flu protection measures. “We will take each decision along the way in response to the expert medical advice,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). On Wednesday it was announced that the entire Brisbane Broncos rugby league squad had been placed into quarantine after one of their players was suspected of having the virus. The Queensland club confirmed on its Web site that full-back Karmichael Hunt was being tested for the virus, while the sport’s governing body, the National Rugby League (NRL), said Hunt had tested positive for the common flu, influenza A. With over 26,000 thousand H1N1 cases worldwide, the WHO could move to Phase 6, the highest on its pandemic alert system.

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“It’s really a matter of making sure that countries are prepared as possible. We do not want people to overly panic,” Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director General, told ABC. In a statement a day earlier, Fukuda said the WHO had been working extremely hard preparing countries for what a potential move to a global pandemic would entail. “I want to point out that by going to Phase 6 the activity has become established in at least two regions of the world,” he said. “It does not mean that the severity of the situation has increased and that people are getting seriously sick at higher numbers or higher rates than they are right now.”