CANCUN (MEXICO) - THE H1N1 flu virus is running wild in the Southern Hemisphere, spreading rapidly through Europe, and showing signs of rebounding in Mexico. That indicates it may be unstoppable, warns World Health Organisation (Who) director-general Margaret Chan.
She was speaking to health ministers from around the globe at the opening on Thursday of a two-day summit to design strategies for battling the pandemic. 'As we see today, with well over 100 countries reporting cases, once a fully fit pandemic virus emerges, its further international spread is unstoppable,' said Dr Chan.
Nations attending the summit include the United States, Canada, China, Britain and Brazil.
Mexican officials wanted the meeting held in the Caribbean resort city of Cancun - where tourism has plunged - to highlight the country's success in controlling its epidemic with a five-day national shutdown of schools and businesses in May. The measures were applauded by the US Centres for Disease Control and international health officials. 'Our presence here is an expression of confidence,' said Dr Chan.
But Mexico is starting to see an increase in H1N1 flu cases in isolated areas, in a worrying sign that the country may see a resurgence, especially when its winter flu season begins in November.
Mexico has confirmed a total of 10,687 cases to date, including 119 deaths. Officials blamed the spike on outbreaks in schools, which have since closed a few weeks early for summer break.
'Unfortunately, we let our guard down, especially after classes started, and the outbreak is unstoppable,' Yucatan health secretary Alvaro Quijano told local news media.
With the Southern Hemisphere in the midst of its winter flu season, Dr Chan said officials are keeping a close watch on those countries.
The virus is spreading in Chile, and Argentina - with 1,587 cases and 26 deaths - ranks third behind Mexico and the United States. In Europe, the hardest-hit nation is Britain, which has officially reported 7,447 H1N1 flu cases. Many flu experts believe numbers could jump exponentially now that the virus is entrenched.
Worldwide, there were 332 deaths and more than 77,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, according to WHO's latest figures.