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The WHO calls an end to the swine flu pandemic as Vietnam braces for peak season

A passenger wears a mask at the Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport in 2009. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially shifted the H1 N1 influenza virus (wine flu) into its "post-pandemic" phase on August 10.

On Tuesday, August 10, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially shifted the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) into its "post-pandemic" phase.

The semantic gesture has satisfied some around the world who have called for an end to the heightened state of alert concerning the virus. Many, however, continue to battle the virus in Asia.

The United Nations agency defined the "post-pandemic" period as a phase in which the virus is expected to behave like any other seasonal flu strain. In a press conference held Tuesday in Geneva, the WHO Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, noted that recent studies had shown that 20-40 percent of certain populations had been infected by the virus.

"Many countries report good vaccination coverage, especially in high-risk groups," she said. "This coverage further increases community-wide immunity."

While outbreaks may continue to occur, she said, the virus has joined the ranks of other manageable flu strains.

"During the pandemic, the H1N1 virus crowded out other influenza viruses to become the dominant virus," Dr. Chan told reporters. "This is no longer the case. Many countries are reporting a mix of influenza viruses, again as is typically seen during seasonal epidemics."

Vietnam recorded 11,214 cases of the virus, from May 2009 to July 2010, 59 of which proved fatal, according to statistics provided by the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology.

From April 2009 to July 2010, more than 250,000 cases and 1,800 deaths from laboratory-confirmed pandemic influenza A (H1N1) 2009 were reported from 34 countries and areas in the WHO's Western Pacific Region (of which Vietnam is a part), according to a WHO spokesperson.

Last week, following the death of a 6 year-old girl who later tested positive for swine flu, Dr. Nguyen Dac Tho, deputy director of the HCMC's Center of Preventative Health urged caution as the country approaches its peak flu season.

Countries throughout the region continue to battle the disease.

India and New Zealand are currently managing outbreaks.

During the last week of July alone, India recorded 629 confirmed cases of the virus and 58 deaths, most of which were concentrated in southern and western states.

New Zealand has reported just 300 confirmed cases so far this year and no deaths. However, authorities there remain vigilant.

"The pandemic influenza strain is the predominant strain circulating this winter," announced Deputy Director of Public Health Darren Hunt in a statement following the WHO announcement. "Some areas, particularly those who were not greatly affected last year, are now being hit with high levels of illness in the community."

Tina Nixon, a spokeswoman for New Zealand's Ministry of Health, told Thanh Nien Weeky that the WHO announcement would have no effect on the nation's approach to the virus.

Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé, the WHO's representative for Vietnam said that the country has, so far, done an excellent job of containing ports of entry and preventing significant outbreaks in its urban centers.

Dr. Olivé believes that Vietnam developed its effective detection and containment system during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

He considered recent H1N1 levels in Vietnam to be low, though he acknowledged that things could change.

"At the moment, Vietnam is not in its peak flu season," said Olivé. "Once we get to that phase we will see what happens."

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