As health officials seek to smooth concerns over the prospect of a more voracious H1N1 swine flu mutation, evidence mounts that the mutated strain is spreading.
With the World Health Organization reporting an increase of over 1,000 swine flu deaths in one week, health officials have been grappling with public awareness of the pandemic's potency - saying the mutations do not pose any significant threat to public health.
However, with the deaths of two French patients infected by the same mutation as that recently found in Norway, there is growing evidence that the more virulent mutated strain is spreading. The two Frenchmen who were reported on Saturday to have died from the H1N1 mutation did not appear to be in communication with each other prior to their infection, and both had been hospitalized in two different cities - supporting the concern that the mutation is arriving in an organic manner from the general flu ecology.
"The mutation could increase the ability of the virus to affect the respiratory tracts and, in particular, the lung tissue," France's Health Surveillance Institute said. However, it said that the vaccine remains effective against the mutation.
The World Health Organization has reported a swine flu death toll of nearly 8,000 people worldwide, with surges in deaths reported in the Americas and across Europe. Additionally, European nations are reporting the presence of a more dangerous mutation of the H1N1 influenza virus - with observations now seen in the Ukraine, Norway and France.
"The question is whether the mutations again suggest that there is a fundamental change going on in viruses out there - whether there's a turn for the worse in terms of severity," WHO's special adviser on pandemic influenza Keiji Fukuda said, according to Gulf Daily News. "The answer right now is that we are not sure."