Page last updated at 03:00 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 04:00 UK

WHO warns swine flu 'unstoppable'

WHO calls for vigilance over swine flu

The UN's top health official has opened a forum in Mexico on combating swine flu by saying that the spread of the virus worldwide is now unstoppable.

World Health Organization head Margaret Chan added that the holding of the meeting in Cancun showed confidence in Mexico, which has been hard hit.

The WHO says most H1N1 cases are mild, with many people recovering unaided.

As the summit opened, the UK alone was projecting more than 100,000 new cases of H1N1 a day by the end of the summer.

While Mexico in the northern hemisphere has seen swine flu cases decreased, the peak of the flu season is approaching in South America and some areas have declared a public health emergency.

Paraguay has reported its first fatality, while in Central America El Salvador has also recorded its first swine flu death.

'Mild symptoms'

"As we see today, with well over 100 countries reporting cases, once a fully fit pandemic virus emerges, its further international spread is unstoppable," Dr Chan said in her opening remarks.

A masked guard at a swine flu-quarantined hospital in Athens, Greece, stops a car, 2 July
A hospital in Athens, Greece, has been quarantined for swine flu

She stressed that the overwhelming majority of patients experienced mild symptoms and made a full recovery within a week, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment.

The exceptions, she said, were pregnant women and people with underlying health problems, who were at higher risk from complications from the virus and should be monitored if they fell ill.

"For a pandemic of moderate severity, this is one of our greatest challenges: helping people to understand when they do not need to worry, and when they do need to seek urgent care," Dr Chan said.

Turning to the summit venue, the WHO chief added: "Mexico is a safe, as well as a beautiful and warmly gracious, place to visit."

Leaders and experts from 50 countries are in Cancun for the two-day meeting to discuss strategies for combating the virus.

It has been more than two months since the initial alert over swine flu.

Since then, the H1N1 virus has entered more than 100 countries, infected more than 70,000 people and killed more than 300 worldwide.

Authorities across South America are becoming increasingly concerned as the peak flu season approaches.

Schools across Argentina have sent students home and pregnant women have been told they can take two weeks off work to avoid contracting the virus.

It is hoped the Cancun meeting will address many of the issues that might help slow the spread of swine flu but, our correspondent adds, many people are concerned that an effective vaccine has still not been developed.

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