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WHO: Swine flu pandemic has begun, 1st in 41 years

  • WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, left, listens to Keiji Fukuda, assistant Director-General, during a press conference at the World Health Organization, WHO, headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, June 11, 2009. The World Health Organization held an emergency swine flu meeting Thursday and declared phase 6, the first flu pandemic in 41 years as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

GENEVA ? The World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic Thursday ? the first global flu epidemic in 41 years ? as infections in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere climbed to nearly 30,000 cases.

The long-awaited pandemic announcement is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe. WHO will now ask drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine, which it said would available after September. The declaration will also prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.

WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan made the announcement Thursday after the U.N. agency held an emergency meeting with flu experts. Chan said she was moving to phase 6 ? the agency's highest alert level ? which means a pandemic, or global epidemic, is under way.

"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan told reporters. "The virus is now unstoppable."

"However, we do not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe and fatal infections," she added.


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