The World Health Organization Thursday said it is declaring H1N1 a flu pandemic, the first since 1968, when Hong Kong flu killed 1 million people.
WHO said in a statement to its 193 member nations that it will raise the pandemic flu alert level from Phase 5 to Phase 6, signaling that the virus has spread throughout the world.
The Phase 6 alert means that all member states must initiate pandemic prevention strategies.
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Experts say the likely trigger for WHO's decision is the quick spread of the virus in Victoria, Australia, where 600 new cases were reported this week, bringing the total number of cases in Victoria to more than 1,000, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. (The seasons are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres such that early winter is taking hold in the southern.)
Vaccine manufacturers have received the new H1N1 seed virus during the past two weeks and are cultivating the virus in chicken eggs. The vaccine is expected to be ready this fall, when flu season strikes in the Northern Hemisphere.
Allaying fears that the virus has become more virulent, WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley said the pandemic was "a measure of the spread of the virus, not the severity of the virus. "The virus's effects are moderate at the moment," he said. "But it's still going to infect an awful lot of people."
In the U.S., over 13,217 people have contracted swine flu and 27 have died. About 50 percent of all reported cases are in the U.S.
Sources: WHO, AccuWeather, News Reports