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Deaths From H1N1 Rise By 700 In One Week, WHO Reports

The number of deaths from H1N1 (swine flu) rose by 700 in a week, to top 5,700 since the virus was first identified in April, the WHO reported Friday, Agence France-Presse reports (10/30).

“The biggest rise in the past week was recorded in the Americas, w[h]ere 636 more people were reported killed by swine flu, bringing the region’s death toll to 4,175, the UN agency said, AFP reports in a second story. “Fatal cases in Europe also climbed to at least 281, while those in Asia-Pacific rose to 1,070” (10/31).

According to the latest WHO figures, there are an estimated 440,000 confirmed cases of H1N1 worldwide, BBC reports. However, because many countries have stopped recording individual cases of the virus, it is likely the latest statistic underestimates the total number of people affected by the virus (10/30).

An international panel of vaccine experts advising the WHO on Friday concluded that a single dose of the H1N1 vaccine would likely offer anyone over six months of age protection against the H1N1 virus, the Washington Post reports. “The experts … recommended that countries that have made children a high priority for the vaccine should consider giving one dose to as many children as possible before administering a second dose,” the newspaper writes. However, the group also acknowledged that data on children under 10 was “limited and more studies are needed,” and advised countries to proceed with vaccination strategies “most appropriate to their population.” 

“U.S. health officials have recommended two doses for children younger than 10, based on the early results of studies indicating that one dose was insufficient to produce a strong enough immune system response to protect that age group,” according to the newspaper. “The recommendation came as the number of U.S. children who have died from the H1N1 virus increased to 114 — a jump of 19 deaths from the week before” (Stein, 10/31).

Also on Friday, Marie-Paule Kieny, of the WHO, discussed the organization’s campaign to distribute H1N1 vaccines to developing countries, Reuters reports. According to Kieny, a group of 16 countries would soon receive enough H1N1 vaccines for 2 percent of their populations. The WHO’s goal is to provide enough H1N1 vaccines to 95 countries to immunize over 10 percent of their populations, according to the news service.

“WHO has received donations of 156 million doses of vaccine from four manufacturers or governments, and hoped to reach the 200 million dose level needed to help 95 countries, [Kieny] said,” Reuters writes (Lynn, 10/30).

Efforts To Contain H1N1 Cases Force Shutdowns In Ukraine, Afghanistan

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Friday “imposed travel restrictions, banned public gatherings and closed schools and universities for three weeks after the health ministry declared an epidemic of the H1N1 virus,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The ministry released figures Sunday showing 53 people had died from flu and respiratory infections, although it was unclear how many of these were caused by the H1N1 virus,” the newspaper writes (Marson, 11/1).

The New York Times also reports on rising fears over the H1N1 virus in the Ukraine, noting, “[n]ews reports from the western part of the country said there were long lines at pharmacies as people sought medication and masks.” The newspaper reports the WHO plans to send a team to assist authorities in the Ukraine (Levy, 10/31).

The Afghan government on Monday declared H1N1 to be a health emergency and ordered the closing of schools for three weeks in an effort to contain the virus, after the country suffered its first death from H1N1 last week, Reuters reports. The government has also advised against public gatherings. “Nearly 350 positive cases of H1N1 have been detected among foreigners and Afghans and several hundred more people are suspected to be infected, [Farid Raaid,] a public health ministry spokesman said,” the news service reports. According to Raaid, the WHO plans to offer the country one million doses of the H1N1 vaccine (Salahuddin, 11/2).