The WHO declaration of a pandemic raises the alert to the maximum level six, the Swedish government said.
Swedish Health Minister Maria Larsson was to hold a press conference later on Thursday following “the WHO’s decision to raise the pandemic level to six for the influenza A(H1N1),” the government said in a statement.
The WHO announced earlier on Thursday it would be holding a press conference at its Geneva headquarters at 6pm about influenza A(H1N1), but gave no further details as to what would be announced.
“We can’t interpret it in any other way than that it’s a pandemic,” said Anders Tegnell from the infectious disease unit with Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to the TT news agency.
When asked why the Swedish government had decided to publicize news about the heightened alert prior to the WHO, Göran Holsmström, an adviser with the Ministry of Health, told The Local that since Sweden’s own public health agencies had been notified “we saw no reason to wait”.
“From what I understand it’s public information,” he said.
“We wanted to get it out to the Swedish media and public as quickly as possible.”
A total of 74 countries are now affected by the virus.
The WHO was holding a meeting at its headquarters in Geneva amid growing evidence the virus, which originated in Mexico two months ago, is now being widely transmitted between humans in Asia and Europe as well as the Americas.
Under WHO guidelines, one key criteria for declaring a pandemic would be established community spread in a country outside the first region in which the disease was initially reported.
The Geneva-based UN body last declared a flu pandemic 40 years ago.
On Wednesday, the number of A(H1N1) infections reported to the health agency by the 74 countries had reached 27,737, including 141 deaths.
The figures were released before authorities in Guatemala reported the country’s first swine flu-related death, when a 12-year-old boy stricken by the virus died from kidney failure.
Guatemala is the eighth nation to report a death linked to swine flu. All fatal cases have been in the Americas and the Caribbean.
The vast majority of deaths have been in Mexico where 108 are known to have been killed by the virus. More than 6,133 have been infected there.