As the swine flu has reached pandemic status worldwide, city health officials confirm three more deaths due to the outbreak, pushing the local toll to 15.
Two of the three latest victims were children, including one who was younger than 2 years old, Health Department sources said. The other young victim was between 10 and 20 years old. The third victim was between 30 and 40.
Health officials are not reporting any underlying risk factors that may have contributed to the latest deaths, saying "while most of New York City’s H1N1 flu deaths have involved people with established risk factors for flu complications, influenza is sometimes fatal in otherwise-healthy people."
The grim news comes one day after city health officials announced three other deaths, temporarily raising the death toll from nine to 12. City health officials said one victim was 30 to 39 years old, another was 50 to 59 and another was over 65 in an announcement on Wednesday.
The local outbreak began after a school group returned in April from a trip to Mexico, where the swine flu is believed to have originated. The next six weeks saw many school closings and plenty of news conferences by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and health officials.
The city's new health commissioner, Thomas Farley, was to testify later Thursday at a hearing examining the city's response to the flu.
The Health Department said a telephone poll of over 1,000 residents found nearly 7 percent had flu-like symptoms in April and May. That suggests more than half a million New Yorkers were ill.
The World Health Organization told its member nations it was declaring a swine flu pandemic today -- the first global flu epidemic in 41 years -- as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere.
In a statement sent to member countries, WHO said it decided to raise the pandemic warning level from phase 5 to 6 -- its highest alert -- after holding an emergency meeting on swine flu with its experts.
“At this early stage, the pandemic can be characterized globally as being moderate in severity,” WHO said in the statement, urging nations not to close borders or restrict travel and trade. “(We) remain in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers.”
On Wednesday, WHO said 74 countries had reported nearly 27,737 cases of swine flu, including 141 deaths.