Global swine flu deaths slow as WHO toll passes 6,250

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More than 6,250 people have died in the swine flu pandemic, World Health Organisation data showed Friday, as the global death rate appeared to slow.

The number of deaths from the A(H1N1) pandemic in the week to November 8 grew by about 179, against 224 a week earlier and a leap of about 700 in the last week of October.

The pandemic now stretches across 206 countries or territories worldwide, the WHO added in a statement.

The UN health agency said the influenza season showed signs of peaking in North America, but was intensifying across much of Europe and Central and Eastern Asia.

"Very intense and increasing influenza activity continues to be reported in Mongolia with a severe impact on the health care system," it added.

But the WHO found after investigating the sudden reported surge in flu cases in Ukraine in recent weeks that the swine flu virus had shown no signs of becoming stronger.

"The initial analysis of information indicates that the numbers of severe cases do not appear to be excessive when compared to the experience of other countries and do not represent any change in the transmission or virulence of the virus," the statement said.

More than 1.3 million Ukrainians have been taken ill with swine flu and 265 people have lost their lives to the virus since the end of October, the country's health ministry said Friday.

The Americas still account for the largest number of deaths. The WHO estimates 4,512 have died since the pandemic virus was first identified in April in Mexico and the United States, an increase of 113 in a week.

However, new data released late on Thursday, separate from the WHO figures, estimates that swine flu has killed as many as 3,900 people in the United States.

Health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used a new counting method that yielded an estimate six times higher than the last.

The CDC's previous estimated death toll from H1N1 was 672.

While still imprecise, the new numbers provide "a bigger picture of what has been going on in the first six months of the pandemic," Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.

She said previous estimates were based on "laboratory confirmed cases of hospitalisation and death, potentially giving an incomplete picture of the story of this pandemic."

The WHO said the number of deaths reported in Europe stayed stable at some 300, with signs the pandemic caseload was peaking in parts of Britain, notably Northern Ireland, as well as in Ireland and Iceland.

Meanwhile, the virus spread to the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on Friday as authorities there confirmed its first swine flu death.

Neighbouring Turkey, the only country to recognise the TRNC, also announced a further 20 deaths, bringing its total to 60 fatal cases.

Elsewhere in Europe, Hungarian officials said a 55-year-old and a 73-year-old woman had died in hospital from swine. Seven people have died from the virus in Hungary since July.

In Austria, the Kleine Zeitung newspaper said a 26-year-old man became the country's third fatal case after being hospitalised five days ago with an infection.

In Germany, Cologne footballer Christopher Schorch became the first player in the country's top division to contract the virus.

The 20-year-old German is being treated at home and should return to training next Wednesday, according to his club.

Sharp increases in cases were reported in several western and southern Asian nations, including Israel and Afghanistan in recent weeks, while growing numbers were reported in China and Japan.

Pandemic flu was largely on the wane in most of south and southeast Asia and in the warming southern hemisphere.

jf/cjo

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