GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (AFP) - H1N1 flu is spreading faster and claiming new fatalities in Europe, health officials said, as the global death toll from the virus rose to nearly 5,000 victims and the US said millions had been infected.
Since the A(H1N1) virus was uncovered in April, there have been over 4,735 deaths reported to the World Health Organisation as of a week ago, the WHO said.
Most of the fatal cases - 3,539 - have been recorded in North and South America, the UN health agency said in its latest update on the flu pandemic.
A top US health official said Friday H1N1 flu had infected "many millions" and killed over 1,000 people in the United States since the outbreak began six months ago.Related article: US H1N1 flu cases
"We have seen, since the beginning of the pandemic in April and May, more than 1,000 deaths from pandemic influenza and more than 20,000 hospitalizations in this country," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chief Thomas Frieden told reporters.
"We have had, up until now, many millions of cases of pandemic influenza in the US, and the numbers continue to increase," he added, lamenting the scarcity of influenza A(H1N1) vaccine.
With the winter flu season approaching in the northern hemisphere, H1N1 flu deaths were reported in several European countries this week, with Dutch health officials saying the situation has reached an epidemic level.
"The spread of the A(H1N1) virus in the Netherlands accelerated this week. It is now a small epidemic," said the Dutch institute for health and the environment in a statement.
"Around 10 people infected with the virus were admitted daily to hospitals this week," it said.
A 14-year-old girl became the first otherwise healthy person to die from the virus, bringing to six the number of H1N1 flu deaths so far in the Netherlands.
In Britain, the worst hit country in Europe, new H1N1 flu cases nearly doubled in a week, from 27,000 to 53,000, and the number of deaths now total 128, according to updated figures released this week.
New deaths from the virus were also reported in Germany, its third fatality, and for the first time in the Czech Republic.
The Czech health ministry confirmed Friday that a 31-year-old woman who had the A(H1N1) virus, and also suffered from heart problems, was the country's first fatality linked to H1N1 flu.
The Czech Republic is the 18th country in the European Union to report at least one death from H1N1 flu, according to a top health official, Michael Vit.
"The situation is under control. We have been one of the countries relatively spared, but the virus is spreading around Europe and is found among the population," he added.
Many of the 27 EU member states have begun or are set to start vaccination programmes.
Greece announced Friday the first phase of its vaccination campaign will start in the middle of next month, Greece's ANA news agency reported.
The first group to be vaccinated from November 10-25 will consist of people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women, people working in hospitals and those in charge of children less than than six months old, ANA said.
British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said Friday that, to date, more than 150,000 people have received its vaccine, Pandemrix, as part of government initiated vaccination programmes across Europe which started last week.
The question of how many doses of the vaccine people should receive was again addressed by the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) Friday.
The EMEA's committee for medicinal products for human use reiterated recommendations from September that the three H1N1 vaccines - Celvapan, Focetria and Pandemrix - should be taken as two doses at least three weeks apart.
But according to the limited data available so far, one dose for Pandemrix and Focetria may be enough, it added.
Celvapan is made by US drugmaker Baxter amd Focetria by Novartis of Switzerland.
Earlier this week, US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius confirmed that demand was outstripping supplies of the vaccine.
Because of the vaccine shortage, the state of New York on Friday suspended a contentious requirement for health care workers to be inoculated against H1N1 flu by the end of next month, or risk losing their jobs.