Swine flu cases go over 5,000

GENEVA: The number of worldwide swine flu cases on Tuesday passed 5,000, according to the World Health Organisation, as the virus spread to three more countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

The highest number of cases has been reported in the United States with 2,600 infections, including three deaths, and Mexico with 2,059 cases, including 56 deaths. The global total stood at 5,251, the latest data posted on the WHO website showed.

Meanwhile the WHO defended its decision to raise the global pandemic alarm for swine flu following the outbreak of new influenza A(H1N1) last month.

The global health body's acting Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda insisted the outbreak would have been more severe if the WHO had not raised its pandemic alert two weeks ago.

"If countries had not been thinking about what to do in this kind of situation, the fact is we would have had much more confusion," Fukuda said.

"In many ways, the severity would have been greater."

The WHO raised its alert to five on a scale of six two weeks ago, signalling that a pandemic was "imminent" after Mexico and the United States showed sustained local transmission of the influenza A(H1N1) virus.

With the WHO confirmed death toll at 61, Costa Rica reported its first fatality from the flu -- believed to be a mix of bird and human flu which came together in pigs -- and the United States confirmed a third death.

Three more countries reported their first cases of the virus.

Thailand's first two cases were on Tuesday confirmed in patients who had travelled to Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak where authorities have put the death toll at 56. The WHO has only confirmed 48 of those deaths.

Finland confirmed its first two cases of swine flu Tuesday while Canada confirmed 40 new cases, bringing the total number recorded by national authorities there to 331.

Cuba had earlier reported its first case in a Mexican student, one of a group of 14 Mexicans studying in Havana who were tested for the disease, according to the health ministry.

But attention was most focused on China, where authorities confirmed that a 30-year-old man was hospitalised with the virus after arriving in the southwestern city of Chengdu on a flight from the United States.

"This is our country's first case of A(H1N1)," Chinese health ministry spokesman Mao Qunan said Monday.

Beijing on Tuesday ordered stepped up flu monitoring nationwide and said it had found and isolated nearly all those who travelled on flights with the man.

China had previously confirmed a case, a Mexican national, in the semi-autonomous southern city of Hong Kong.

US health officials reported that the 2,600 confirmed cases across the United States represented just the tip of the iceberg of actual infections.

"Many states did not report over the weekend, so we expect a big jump in the number of cases tomorrow," said Anne Schuchat, the interim deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most of the 5,251 laboratory-confirmed cases recorded by the WHO in some 30 countries have involved relatively mild symptoms and the virus has proved to be treatable with anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu so far.

Mexico is struggling to get back to normal. Six schools remained shut Monday and local officials said Tuesday that tourist cancellations had forced 25 hotels to shut in and around the popular coastal resort of Cancun.

Mexican authorities announced a one-billion-dollar business support programme to help counter the impact of swine flu, particularly on the tourism industry.

Swiss drugs giant Roche said Tuesday it was donating 5.65 million treatment courses of Tamiflu to help fight the swine flu outbreak.