Friday, September 11, 2009

WHO warns of winter H1N1 flu surge in Asia

The World Health Organization on Wednesday urged Asian countries to prepare for a surge in H1N1 flu cases as the northern hemisphere's winter approaches.

Much of Asia has so far been hit relatively lightly, but the WHO said hospitals in the region should be prepared for "a surge of severe cases requiring active case management".

"A winter surge is a real possibility in the Southeast Asia region," WHO director for Southeast Asia, Samlee Plianbangchang, said in Kathmandu, where health ministers from 11 countries in the region are meeting.

The UN agency considers Southeast Asia to include Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.

"It is important to allocate appropriate resources and maintain the overall pandemic preparedness," he said, according to a statement issued by the UN health agency.

At least 2,837 people around the world have died from the H1N1 flu virus since it emerged in April, according to the latest WHO figures.

The UN health agency said it had given technological and financial assistance to three major vaccine manufacturers in the region, but that new vaccines may not be available before the winter sets in.

Instead, it urged more public information to slow the spread of the disease.

"The importance of public health measures such as frequent hand-washing, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette... need to be emphasised to the public," the WHO statement said.