January 15, 2010 / 3:39 PM / 9 years ago

Pandemic flu still active in parts of world: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - The H1N1 flu virus is spreading most actively in North Africa, South Asia and parts of Europe, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

Ashley Estrada, 6, reacts as she gets a shot of the H1N1 flu vaccine at a H1N1 clinic held in Arlington, Texas November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Raising its official global death toll from the pandemic to nearly 14,000, the WHO also said that while India’s infections may have peaked in December, neighboring Nepal and Sri Lanka were still experiencing widespread transmission.

Morocco, Algeria and Egypt are continuing to see the active spread of H1N1 and some countries in Europe, including Romania, Ukraine, Turkey and Switzerland, are also reporting moderately intense rates of respiratory disease, the U.N. agency said.

Its latest update on the influenza strain — known popularly as swine flu — also noted that seasonal influenza viruses have been largely overshadowed by the pandemic strain in the northern hemisphere winter this year.

“Pandemic H1N1 2009 virus continues to be the predominant circulating influenza virus in the European region with only sporadic detections of seasonal influenza viruses,” it said, concluding the same for northern Africa and swathes of Asia, including China.

The WHO said flu activity in Japan, China and Mongolia has been declining since November. In North Korea, “geographically regional influenza activity with increasing respiratory diseases trend was reported during early January 2010,” it said.

In the Americas, where the virus was first identified last April, infection rates have declined since October although small areas of increased flu activity “may be occurring in central and northern Mexico,” the WHO said.

Several countries cut back orders for H1N1 vaccines after it became clear the outbreak, declared a global pandemic by the WHO in June, was not as severe or deadly as first feared.

The WHO has drawn criticism from some politicians for its handling of the pandemic, despite it having always said it could be mild or severe in its effects. Governments will have an opportunity to raise the issue at a week-long meeting of the WHO’s 34-member executive board opening on Monday.

GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis are among H1N1 vaccine producers.

Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Janet Lawrence

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