It may take a year to conquer H1N1 flu pandemic, WHO official says

GENEVA — The H1N1 flu pandemic may not be conquered until 2011 and continued vigilance is required against the virus, which can still mutate, the head of the World Health Organization said Dec. 29.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan also warned that although countries have shored up their defenses against the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years, they remain ill-prepared for mass outbreaks of the deadlier bird flu virus.

"It is still premature and too early for us to say we have come to an end of the pandemic influenza worldwide. It would be prudent and appropriate ... to continue to monitor the evolution of this pandemic for the next six to 12 months," Chan told a year-end news conference according to Reuters.

"The one thing we need to guard against is a sense of complacency," she added.

Countries including Britain, Canada and the United States have passed peaks of a second wave of H1N1, but outbreaks are intensifying in India, Egypt and elsewhere, according to Chan.

It is too early to assert that we have passed the peak of the flu A pandemic at worldwide level," she said. "Not all the countries are there yet. Winter is still long."

H1N1 has spread to more than 200 countries, with nearly 12,000 deaths confirmed in laboratory, but it will probably take two years to establish the true death toll, she said.

Millions of people have been infected with the virus, which emerged in April. Influenza viruses are notoriously unpredictable and can mutate into more severe forms, according to the WHO chief.

Rich countries and drug companies have pledged to donate 190 million doses of H1N1 vaccine for use in some 90 developing countries, she said.

Her United Nations agency plans to start distributing the first doses in Azerbaijan and