WHO says possible swine flu pandemic may be mild
"It is entirely possible...that we may see a very mild pandemic. That would be the best of all situations short of this current situation simply stopping and disappearing," Keiji Fukuda, WHO acting assistant director-general, told reporters.
"I think we have to be mindful and respectful of the fact that influenza moves in ways we cannot predict.
"The worst pandemic of the 20th century occurred ... in 1918 and it also started out as a relatively mild pandemic that wasn't very much noticed in most places. Then in the fall time (it) became a very severe pandemic, one of the most severe infectious disease episodes ever recorded."
The new strain of swine flu virus that has killed up to 149 people in Mexico spread to more countries on Tuesday, raising the specter of a pandemic and hurting financial markets.
Fukuda, an American specialist in influenza, said that there was no good explanation for why the cases in Mexico appeared to be more severe than in other countries. Seven of the 26 laboratory-confirmed cases in Mexico had died, he said.
Worldwide, a total of 79 cases have now been confirmed in laboratories recognized by the WHO and officially notified to the United Nations agency. The latest are three cases in New Zealand, two cases in Britain and a second case in Spain.
Fukuda said there was a definite possibility that the new virus could establish community-wide infections in multiple countries, but it was too early to say that this was inevitable.
The WHO was turning its focus more toward the needs of developing countries, which history shows usually lack resources and infrastructure to combat emerging infectious diseases.
"They really get hit disproportionately hard," he said.