WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, said in a new briefing that the H1N1 flu pandemic (swine flu) continues to spread in parts of eastern and southeastern Europe, parts of Asia, and North Africa. However, he added that globally it is generally declining.

The H1N1 pandemic virus continues to be the main influenza virus circulating globally. WHO (World Health Organization) said the virus is a health risk to people with underlying conditions, such as asthma, as well as pregnant women.

Hartl said that activity in general is decreasing.

In a weekly update WHO informed that most of the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere experienced a peak of influenza transmission between the second part of October and the end of November, 2009. North Africa In North Africa, limited data suggests that pandemic influenza virus transmission remains active and geographically widespread, particularly in Morocco, Algeria, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and in Egypt, although most countries in the region appeared to have recently passed a peak of activity during December 2009 or January 2010. South Asia Pandemic influenza activity remains active but geographically variable in South Asia. Peaks were noted in late December and early January 2010 in northern India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Influenza activity is reported to be elevated but stable in western India, and continues to decline significantly in northern India, while remaining low overall in southern and eastern India. Regional spread influenza activity and a low intensity of respiratory diseases activity was reported in Bangladesh. East Asia In East Asia, transmission of pandemic influenza virus remains active, however, overall activity continued to fall in most countries. An increasing trend in respiratory diseases with localized spread was reported for DPR Korea.

In the Republic of Korea, transmission of pandemic influenza virus remains active (>20% respiratory specimens tested positive for pandemic H1N1), however, overall activity continue to decline since peaking during November 2009.

In Japan, influenza activity continues to decline, however high levels of transmission persist on the southern island of Okinawa.

In northern and southern China, pandemic virus isolations have declined substantially since peaking early to mid November 2009, however, in recent weeks detections of influenza type B viruses have increased. Southeast Asia In southeast Asia, transmission of pandemic influenza virus continues, but activity levels are currently low. In Vietnam, influenza activity has declined considerably since peaking during October and November 2009.

In Thailand, focal outbreaks of influenza were reported from a few provinces in northern and central parts of the country, however, overall ILI activity remains low. Europe In Europe, transmission of pandemic influenza virus remains geographically regional to widespread in the central, eastern, and southeastern parts of the continent, however, overall activity continues to decline in most places. Several countries (Austria, Albania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and the Russian Federation) reported slight increases in the levels of ARI (acute respiratory infection) or ILI (influenza-like-illness) activity, however in most, levels remain well below recent peaks in activity.

The overall rate of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza (16%) continued to fall since peaking (45%) during early November 2009. The Americas In the Americas, both in the tropical and northern temperate zones, overall pandemic influenza activity continued to decline or remain low in most places.

Of note, detections of RSV have increased in a few countries in the Americas, which may partially account for elevated ILI activity in those areas, particularly among young children. In the US and Canada, pandemic influenza virus detections and the numbers of severe and fatal cases have decline substantially as rates of ILI (influenza-like-illness) have fallen below seasonal baselines.

In Central America and Caribbean, pandemic influenza virus transmission persists but overall activity remains low or unchanged in most places. Temperate southern hemisphere In temperate regions of the southern hemisphere, sporadic cases of pandemic influenza continued to be reported without evidence of sustained community transmission. Pandemic influenza (H1N1) 2009 virus continues to be the predominant virus circulating worldwide. Seasonal H3N2 and type B viruses are circulating at low levels in parts of Africa, east and Southeast Asia and are being detected only sporadically on other continents.

The Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN) continues monitoring the global circulation of influenza viruses, including pandemic, seasonal and other influenza viruses infecting, or with the potential to infect, humans including seasonal influenza.

WHO estimates that more than 14,711 people have died as a result of H1N1 infection since April 2009. In about two years we will have a more accurate assessment of total mortality, WHO added.

209 countries and overseas territories or communities have reported laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1, as of 24th January 2010, WHO reports. The agency says it is "actively monitoring the progress of the pandemic through frequent consultations with the WHO Regional Offices and member states and through monitoring of multiple sources of information."

Source: World Health Organization (WHO)

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