ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
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ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
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ANIMAL CARE
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BONES & JOINTS
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CANCER
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Gene Screen May Predict Colon Cancer's Return
CAREGIVING
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CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
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COSMETIC
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DENTAL, ORAL
Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes
Obesity Boosts Gum Disease Risk
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
DIABETES
Exercise Protects Black Women From Type 2 Diabetes
Americans Consuming More Sugary Beverages
Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good
DIET, NUTRITION
10 Beginner Tips for Fast Weight Loss, the Low-Carb Way!
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The Food Irradiation Story
DISABILITIES
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Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
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Bed Bugs Bring No Disease Danger
EPA Alerts Seniors to Carbon Monoxide Dangers
EYE CARE, VISION
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Eye Disease, Cognitive Decline Linked in Study
FITNESS
Daily Exercise at School Yields Rewards
Yoga Can Ease Lower Back Pain
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GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
HRT Use Raises Risk of Stomach Trouble
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
GENERAL HEALTH
Proven Strategies for Avoiding Colds and the Flu
New Options Offered for Sleep Apnea
Keep Fire Safety in Mind as You Celebrate
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
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HEARING
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HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Dark Chocolate May Lower Stroke Risk
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Cocoa in Chocolate May Be Good for the Heart
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
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Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
INFERTILITY
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KID'S HEALTH
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MEN'S HEALTH
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Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
MENTAL HEALTH
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PAIN
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Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
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Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Placebo Acupuncture Tied to Higher IVF Pregnancies
SENIORS
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Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
Keeping Mentally Active Seems To Keep The Brain Active
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
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Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Mom and Baby Alike May Benefit From Exercise
Exercise During Pregnancy Keeps Newborn Size Normal
Being Active an Hour a Day Puts Brakes on Weight Gain
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Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.

THURSDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the first flu pandemic since 1968, triggered by the rapid spread of the H1N1 virus across North America, Australia, South America, Europe and regions beyond.

WHO director Dr. Margaret Chan made the much-anticipated announcement immediately after an emergency teleconference with flu experts from a number of countries.

"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan said in Geneva, according to the Associated Press. "The [swine flu] virus is now unstoppable."

The declaration pushes the WHO alert status on the outbreak from phase 5, where it had remained for weeks, to the highest level, phase 6, as the number of swine flu cases hit close to 30,000 in the United States, Europe, South America and Australia.

The rapid spread of cases in Australia, where they rose by more than 1,000 on Monday, appeared to fit a key criteria for declaring a global pandemic -- if at least two regions of the world are hit.

On Thursday, WHO said 74 countries have now reported 28,774 cases of swine flu, including 144 deaths, the AP reported.

U.S. health officials on Thursday were not surprised by the pandemic announcement. "It's based on the data," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during an afternoon press conference.

But, he added, "this does not mean there is any difference in the severity of the flu. There has been no change in the virus."

"Here in the United States, we have been responding as if it were a pandemic already," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, added.

What the pandemic declaration means, she said, is that "for countries that were not seeing the flu we have seen here, they need to dust off their pandemic plans."

In a separate statement in response to the WHO announcement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "What this declaration does do is remind the world that flu viruses like H1N1 need to be taken seriously. Although we have not seen large numbers of severe cases in this country so far, things could possibly be very different in the fall, especially if things change in the Southern Hemisphere, and we need to start preparing now in order to be ready for a possible H1N1 immunization campaign, starting in late September."

And U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano added, "This decision comes as no surprise. We acted aggressively to stay ahead of the virus as it spread across the country. Now our challenge is to prepare for a possible return in the fall."

"The Obama Administration has been working together across the government, and will continue to do so over the weeks and months ahead to keep the American people safe," she said.

According to WHO statistics, the last pandemic -- the Hong Kong flu of 1968 -- killed about 1 million people. By comparison, ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

Other experts also cautioned that the new declaration does not mean that the swine flu has gotten more severe.

"A World Health Organization level 6, which in effect states that H1N1 infections are now worldwide in distribution, is simply a declaration of the extent of geographic spread, and not a statement of severity of the clinical disease," Dr. Pascal James Imperato, a former New York City health commissioner and dean of public health at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center, said in a statement. "The disease remains relatively mild in most people. A positive consequence of this declaration is that it empowers countries to move forward with vaccine production."

Chan on Thursday also characterized the H1N1 virus as "moderate," and WHO officials said they would be now urging flu vaccine makers to start producing swine flu vaccine.

Since the outbreak started in April, health officials in the United States have also said that infections have been mild for the most part, and most people recover fairly quickly. Testing has found that the H1N1 virus remains susceptible to two common antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza.

During the next few months, CDC scientists will be looking to see if the swine flu virus mutates or becomes resistant to antiviral medications or is more easily spread among people.

U.S. health officials have said there's no way to tell now if the H1N1 virus will be more virulent when -- and if -- it returns to the Northern Hemisphere with the approach of winter.

A vaccine for the swine flu virus could be ready by October, if research and testing proceed on pace this summer. Candidate viruses have been shipped to vaccine manufacturers, agency officials said.

SOURCES: June 11, 2009, teleconference with Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Anne Schuchat, M.D., director, CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease; June 11, 2009, statements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Pascal James Imperato, M.D., M.P.H., dean, Graduate Program in Public Health, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, New York City; Associated Press