1 May 2009The United Nations health agency – the nerve centre for the global response to the recent outbreak of influenza A(H1N1) infections – today confirmed that over 300 people in almost a dozen countries have contracted the new flu strain. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed that it is “prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention,” the agency considers the imposition of travel restrictions or border closures as ineffective in halting the spread of the virus.“The focus now is on minimizing the impact of the virus through the rapid identification of cases and providing patients with appropriate medical care, rather than on stopping its spread internationally,” WHO said in its latest update concerning the outbreak.As of 14:20 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) today, laboratory confirmed cases of the virus rose to 331 worldwide, up from 236 yesterday, with Mexico reporting 156 infections and nine deaths, as well as the United States reporting 109 confirmed A(H1N1) cases and one death. According to WHO, the other countries reporting laboratory confirmed infections with no deaths are Austria (1), Canada (34), Germany (3), Israel (2), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (3), Spain (13), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (8).For the third consecutive day, WHO places its pandemic alert at Phase 5 – of a six-level warning scale – which means that sustained human to human transmission had been confirmed, with widespread community outbreaks in at least two countries in one WHO region. Acknowledging that there was very little chance that current vaccines used against seasonal influenza could be effective against the new A(H1N1) flu strain, Marie-Paule Kieny, Director of WHO”s Initiative for Vaccine Research, noted that the agency is in discussion with manufacturers to produce an inoculation as soon as possible. “We have no doubt that making a successful vaccine is possible within a relatively short period of time,” said Ms. Kieny. However, the first dosage to leave factories available for immunizing people will take four to six months.