Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Tuesday, 28 April 2009 14:24 UK

Europe braced for spread of flu

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou
Androulla Vassiliou said seven new EU countries had suspected cases

More cases of swine flu in humans are likely to emerge across Europe in the coming days, EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has warned.

Two cases have so far been confirmed in the UK and two more in Spain.

But suspected cases of the virus were also being investigated in seven other EU countries, Ms Vassiliou said.

She said the EU would not yet place restrictions on travel. Even so, a number of European travel companies have suspended services to Mexico.

Mexico has raised the number of probable deaths there to more than 150. Almost 1,000 people are in hospital with symptoms.

Mexico: 152 suspected deaths from flu - 20 confirmed cases
US: 50 confirmed cases
Canada: 6 confirmed cases
New Zealand - 3 confirmed cases
UK - 2 confirmed cases
Spain: 2 confirmed cases
Israel - 1 confirmed case
Countries with suspected cases: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Australia, and South Korea, and seven EU states

Cases of the deadly swine flu virus have been confirmed as far afield as New Zealand and Israel, as well as the US and Canada.

In addition to Spain and the UK, Ms Vassiliou said suspected cases were also being investigated in the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Greece and the Czech Republic.

"We expect the situation to change in the course of the next few days," she told a news conference in Brussels.

"Since yesterday, the [European] Commission has been having daily meetings with the EU health and safety committee, and the member states have already taken certain measures."

"In the next few days the commission's crisis co-ordination committee will be drawing up common guidelines to ensure our response is consistent," she added.

Pig 'connotation'

EU health ministers will be holding emergency talks in Luxembourg on Thursday. They are likely to consider whether further travel restrictions are necessary.

Medical staff wearing masks at a hospital in Valencia (27 April 2009)
The UN has warned that the virus has the potential to become a pandemic

On Tuesday the British travel firms Thomas Cook and Thomson said they were suspending flights to Mexico and would begin repatriating travellers. The German firm TUI took similar steps on Monday.

Ms Vassiliou said the EU would from now on refer to the outbreak as "novel flu" to avoid any misleading link with pigs or the pork industry.

She said that was a "wrong connotation". Experts say there has been no sign of any direct link with pigs.

Nevertheless, a team from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is due to leave Rome for Mexico on Tuesday, to examine claims that people had been falling ill last month near intensive pig farms.

"[We had] no indication of human cases of direct contact with pigs, but this can never be totally sure and the probability that this virus could come from pigs directly could not be anyway ruled out totally," said the FAO's chief veterinary officer, Joseph Domenech.

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