Geneva: Scientists need more time to decide whether to mass produce a vaccine against swine flu, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, as the number of cases topped 6,000 around the globe.
Acting assistant WHO director-general Keiji Fukuda said that a meeting of experts came to ‘no big decisions’ on Thursday on whether to begin producing a vaccine for the A(H1N1) virus.
“Production of vaccines against the new virus could disrupt the ongoing production of seasonal flu vaccines,” he added.
Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director for vaccine research, said last week that Thursday’s meeting would decide whether to ask the UN agency to give the go-ahead for large-scale manufacturing of a vaccine.
But Fukuda said more meetings were needed to examine the technical process for manufacturers to ready themselves to go into mass production, which will require several weeks.
“It’s not possible to say that there will be a decision by this date, really it’s a painstaking and difficult process,” said Fukuda.
According to WHO figures the number of laboratory-confirmed swine flu cases has now hit 6,497 in 33 countries, with Belgium becoming the latest European nation to record a case. Peru has also registered its first case.
A total of 65 people have died from the disease, the majority in Mexico.
Most of the confirmed cases of swine flu have been in the US where the number jumped Thursday to 4,298 sufferers in 46 states and the District of Columbia, health authorities said.
New York officials also announced that they were shutting down three schools in response to a swine flu outbreak and that one staff member had been hospitalized.
“The three schools, with a total of about 4,500 students, will close Friday and all next week in response to an unusually high level of flu-like illnesses at those schools,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Mexico, which has been the epicentre of the outbreak and now has 2,656 confirmed cases, has said it will seek compensation for the damages suffered after fear of the disease drove away thousands of tourists—a critical source of foreign revenue.
“There are grounds to apply for compensation for the country that has been hardest-hit by the virus,” Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said.
Cordova said that compensation for lost tourist revenue could come from the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank.
Belgium meanwhile reported a second case of swine flu in the country, the day after announcing it had discovered its first infection.
New Zealand’s confirmed cases rose by two on Friday, bringing the country’s total to nine, the Ministry of Health said.
“Both cases were previously listed as probable before their infection was confirmed by laboratory testing,” said director of public health Mark Jacobs.
New Zealand was one of the first places outside of Mexico to confirm the disease after a group of students visited Mexico.
The WHO announced that it would shorten its world assembly, scheduled to start on Monday in Geneva, from nine to four days because of the outbreak.
China, meanwhile, stepped up a search for people who had come into contact with the mainland’s two confirmed swine flu patients.
Authorities in Beijing and eastern Shandong province were looking for passengers who might have travelled with a 19 year old student, who on Wednesday became the second confirmed sufferer on the mainland.
The youth apparently felt ill on Sunday, two days after landing in China from Canada, but nevertheless boarded a train on Monday for Shandong province with a fever, sore throat and a headache.
Earlier, a 30 year old man was confirmed to have the virus in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Two cases have been confirmed in Hong Kong. Authorities there said that they had quarantined six people who travelled with the second case, a 24 year old man, by plane from San Francisco.
The cases in China and Hong Kong highlighted concerns that the virus—believed to be a mix of bird and human flu which came together in pigs—could spread further around the world as sufferers travelled by air.