Geneva, Switzerland (BBN)- Obtaining reliable information on the different aspects of the influenza A(H1N1) infection is critical to make informed decisions on how to manage the outbreak, the head of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday.

“We are all under pressure to make urgent and far-reaching decisions in an atmosphere of considerable scientific uncertainty,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director-General, said in her remarks to the high-level consultation on pandemic influenza A(H1N1), held in Geneva.

As of today, 40 countries have officially reported 8,829 cases of the new flu strain, including 74 deaths. WHO’s pandemic alert level remains at Phase 5 – on a six-point warning scale – meaning that sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus on a community level is restricted to one of the agency’s geographic regions, in this case North America.

“What we need most of all, right now, is information,” stressed Dr. Chan.

In addition to protecting health, governments and health ministries need information for reliable communications with their citizens.

Dr. Chan emphasized that the prospect of an influenza pandemic rightly deserves the highest attention of governments, health ministries, public health officials, and industry.

The consultations included an update on the current situation from senior WHO officials, as well as presentations by experts from Mexico, the United States and Canada, who shared their experiences with the infection so far.

BBN/SS/SI/AD-19May09-3:23 am (BST)