The World Health Organization is likely to declare the first influenza
pandemic in more than 40 years, as infections of the H1N1 swine flu
virus continue to rise.
WHO experts meeting in Geneva Thursday are expected to recommend raising the pandemic alert level from Phase 5 to the maximum Phase 6. Officials note that declaring a pandemic does not mean the disease has become more severe, but that there is an increasing number of infections in different geographical locations.
WHO says if a Phase 6 alert is declared, it would likely get governments to spend more money to contain the outbreak, and trigger drug companies to speed up production of a vaccine.
In Hong Kong, authorities are closing all kindergartens and primary schools for two weeks after 12 students tested positive for the virus.
Hong Kong's chief executive Donald Tsang said the cluster of local human swine flu cases does not have a known source of infection.
Also Thursday, authorities in the western German city of Duesseldorf confirmed at least 26 cases of swine flu among students at a Japanese school in the city.
Australian officials announced Thursday that four swine flu victims were admitted to intensive care wards after a spike in H1N1 cases in the country.
Earlier this week, a senior WHO officialsaid an increase in swine flu cases in Australia may push the organization to declare a pandemic. Australia has more than 1,200 reported cases.
The United States has recorded the most cases, with more than 13,000, although Mexico has the most deaths, which currently stand at more than 100.
WHO estimates the number of people infected with swine flu had risen to nearly 28,000 in 74 countries, including 141 deaths.
The last time the WHO declared a pandemic was in 1968 following the outbreak of the Hong Kong flu which killed at least one million people.