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22 of June, 10:25

Russia`s top doctor seeks to calm swine flu pandemic fears
Russia`s chief doctor said swine flu could be treated as normal seasonal influenza despite the WHO`s classification of the outbreak as a global pandemic, but advised Russians to protect themselves with masks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared earlier on Thursday its first flu pandemic of the 21st century following an emergency meeting. The A/H1N1 virus has been confirmed in 74 countries.

The UN health body`s chief Margaret Chan announced that the WHO decided to raise the pandemic alert level to the maximum of 6.

"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan told reporters.

"The virus is now unstoppable," she said.

Gennady Onishchenko dismissed the swine flu pandemic as a real threat and said most patients could be treated at home. He urged Russians to follow regular hygiene routines and to wear flu-protection masks.

"It is not complicated, but it is effective - put on a mask," the chief doctor said in an interview with Vesti 24 television on Thursday. "Nobody sees this as a supernatural situation, scandalous behavior. It is a normal rule, which protects against the pandemic."

A Russian government official earlier told RIA Novosti that Russia is not overly concerned with the new pandemic.

"There is no reason for concern. The situation in Russia is under control," he said adding that only three swine flu cases had been registered so far in the country and all patients had recovered.

Under WHO guidelines, a key criteria for declaring a pandemic is a confirmed community spread in a country outside the first region the disease was reported.

Chan said the pandemic, which originated in Mexico and now had swept through the United States, Europe, Australia, and South America, was moderate in nature, but could last for a long time.

She reiterated, though, that the WHO`s 193 member countries should not close borders or impose travel restrictions to halt the movement of people, goods and services due to a geographical expansion o the virus.

The WHO reported on June 10 that a total of 28,774 cases of A/H1N1 virus had resulted in 144 deaths.

An influenza pandemic is an epidemic of an influenza virus that spreads on a worldwide scale and infects a large proportion of the human population.

There were three flu pandemics in the last century.

The 1918 Spanish flu was the most serious pandemic, claiming over 50 million lives. It was followed by the Asian Flu in 1957 with up to 4 million deaths, and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 resulting in about 1 million deaths.

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