As more cases of swine flu continue to pop up worldwide, the World Health Center made it official today by declaring the outbreak of the H1N1 virus a pandemic, the first global flu pandemic in 41 years. The declaration could prompt quicker production of preventative vaccines.
In a statement, WHO said it was raising the infectious diseases alert to Phase 6, its highest level. The move came after the U.N. health agency held an emergency meeting about the virus.
The agency said the pandemic is only "moderate in severity" and cautioned against overreactions. The alert level was increased primarily because the virus is now spreading throughout communities in Australia and North America. A global outbreak has begun when a new flu virus begins spreading in two world regions, according to WHO's pandemic criteria.
There have been 28,774 confirmed cases of swine flu, resulting in 144 deaths, in 74 countries this year. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said today that an H1N1 flu vaccine will not be available before September.
The last pandemic was the Hong Kong flu of 1968. It killed an estimated 1 million people.