|The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global flu pandemic after holding an emergency meeting, according to reports.
It means the swine flu virus is spreading in at least two regions of the world with rising cases being seen in the UK, Australia, Japan and Chile.
The move does not necessarily mean the virus is causing more severe illness or more deaths.
The swine flu (H1N1) virus first emerged in Mexico in April.
It has since spread to 74 countries.
Official reports say there have been 28,000 cases globally and 141 deaths and figures are rising daily
It is the first flu pandemic in 40 years – the last in 1968 with Hong Kong flu killed about one million people.
The current pandemic seems to be moderate and causing mild illness in most people.
One factor which may have prompted the move to a level six pandemic was that in the southern hemisphere, the virus seems to be crowding out normal seasonal influenza.
It is thought the move was not prompted by the situation in any one country but the reports of several pockets of community spread.
There have been almost 800 cases in the UK with some areas of Scotland being particularly hard hit.
The government has been stockpiling antivirals such as Tamiflu and has ordered vaccine, some doses of which could be available by October.
Chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said the WHO declaration of a pandemic would not significantly change the way the UK was dealing with swine flu at the moment.
But he added there could be some minor changes to who received antivirals.
“The declaration of a pandemic per se doesn’t make a big difference to the to the way we are handling the outbreaks we have.
“We are going to continue to investigate every case that occurs and treat their contacts with antivirals even though they may not be ill.
“The difference is that the Health Protection Agency has learnt a lot about approaching this question of antiviral prophylaxis and they are going to be treating the closer contacts of the cases, rather than the more far-flung contacts, because they feel that that is supported by what they know so far about how the disease is transmitting.
He added: “These flu viruses can change their pattern of attack, so when we come into the flu season in the autumn and winter in this country, when we expect a big surge of cases, we need to watch very carefully to see if the character of the virus is changing.”
Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said a move to level six means that countries need to be ready to implement pandemic plans immediately but the UK was already operating at a “heightened state of readiness”.
But it could affect the speed at which the UK gets pandemic vaccine supplies but that had been factored into pandemic planning.
Flu expert Professor John Oxford, said people should not panic as the outbreak was milder than others seen in the past century.
“It is global and fulfilling the requirements of a pandemic but I don’t think anyone should worry because nothing drastic has happened between yesterday and today.”
Iain and Dawn Askha the couple who became Britain’s first confirmed cases of swine flu have said they believed they caught the virus on their flight home from Mexico.
The couple from Polmont near Falkirk, believe that five men sitting close to them on their flight from Cancun to Birmingham had been coughing and sneezing throughout the journey.
They believe it resulted in them spending five days in isolation rooms in Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire.
It comes as Graeme Pacitti, a friend of the Scottish couple, tested positive for the same type of infection.
Mr Askham, 27, an IT worker, said: “I actually said to Dawn ‘I think we’re going to be getting off this plane with the plague’.
“Most people go to Mexico and come back with a few bottles of tequila but then we go and come back with this flu thing. I just couldn’t believe our luck.”
He added that he was upset he had possible since passed on the flu to his friend Mr Pacitti.
“If Graeme is found to have swine flu, then that just adds to the sense of guilt.”
Speaking to The Daily Mail about his time in hospital, where the couple were put into separate isolation rooms, he said: “It was a very scary time because your mind starts thinking of all the possibilities. It was the longest time we have ever spent apart in our five years together. We couldn’t hug or cuddle or do any of the things a married couple would want to do.”
Mrs Askham, 25, who works as a dispenser in Boots, said: “The men appeared to be sweating and in a fever and were clearly ill – all of them.”
The couple, who stayed at the Royal Cancun Hotel, said they had been unaware there was swine flu in Mexico, until their parents told them about it at the weekend. They have since been given the all-clear and returned home on Thursday.
Mrs Askham added: “My guess would be that we probably caught swine flu on that plane. The fact that another passenger is supposed to have test positive only makes me more certain.
“The authorities should be doing everything that can to trace all the contacts of all the people on that plane.”
The couple were discharged yesterday after blood tests gave them the all-clear.
Mr Pacitti, 24, is a close friend of the Askhams, and plays in the same football team as Mr Askham. He fell ill after spending a night out with Mr Askham and other team members in Falkirk last Thursday.
A clerical worker for Forth Valley health board, Mr Pacitti has been prescribed Tamiflu, an antiviral drug, and is quarantined at Falkirk home with his mother Lesley, her partner, and his 18-year-old brother Alan.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he said: “It is just typical flu. I have a sore throat, a sore head and an upset stomach. I am just waiting to be re-tested again and hope to get more information later today.
“I have been told to stay at home and my mother, her partner and my brother are also in the house.”
He said he was delighted that Mr and Mrs Askham were well and had been discharged from hospital and was encouraged by the fact they had recovered so quickly.
A further three swine flu cases were confirmed in England yesterday, taking the total to eight.
They included a woman who lives with two Newcastle University students, raising the prospect of an outbreak at one of England’s largest universities.
As well as the woman in Newcastle, the virus was confirmed in two people in London.
Meanwhile a 12-year-old girl from Paignton in Devon, who was on the same flight as the Askhams, was recovering well, her grandfather said last night.
Sourced from The Telegraph