Argentina reported on Wednesday a sharp spike in deaths from swine flu as cases jumped across Latin America and more countries worldwide coped with their first fatalities.
Argentinian officials said deaths from the A(H1N1) virus had more than doubled to 337 from 165 two weeks ago, which would put the country second only to the United States with 353 dead.
Advertisement"We have confirmed 337 deaths by A(H1N1) flu," Argentina's deputy health minister Maximo Diosque said.
"We have a similar number, of around 400 cases, that are in the process of being confirmed," he said, adding that more than 700,000 of the 763,000 flu cases detected in the country were A(H1N1).
Mexico, the epicentre for swine flu, also reported a sharp increase in cases after an apparent easing in recent weeks had seemed an encouraging sign that the worst might be over for the moment.
Many experts fear that while swine flu causes relatively mild symptoms in most healthy adults, it could easily mutate into a much more severe strain, especially during the northern hemisphere winter when the flu usually takes its greatest toll.
Thus far, pregnant women and young adults are reported to suffer the most from swine flu, alongside people with serious underlying health problems.
While no new deaths were reported in Mexico, the health ministry said almost 1,000 fresh cases had been confirmed in just five days, taking the total soaring above 17,000.
"As of yesterday (Monday) evening the number of confirmed cases of A(H1N1) in the country was 17,416, of which 146 have died," a ministry statement said on Tuesday.
It was unclear where all the new cases had occurred but the impoverished southeastern state of Chiapas has been struggling to contain a sharp rise in recorded cases in recent weeks.
Since the virus first emerged in Mexico in April, it has spread globally, reaching pandemic level and affecting nearly every country in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
The WHO said on Wednesday that its tally of swine flu deaths had risen to 1,154 from the 816 announced on July 27, and the illness was now found in 168 countries and territories.
As of July 31, Azerbaijan, Gabon, Grenada, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Monaco, Nauru, Swaziland, and Suriname joined the list of infected.
The Netherlands and Vietnam joined the growing list of countries with fatalities from the pandemic while three new deaths each, not yet confirmed by the WHO, were reported on Tuesday in Costa Rica, Peru and in El Salvador, with two more in Saudi Arabia and others in Bolivia and Spain.
Health authorities in three states in Brazil confirmed 38 new deaths from the virus, bringing the country's death toll to 129.
There were two deaths in Saudi Arabia while in war-torn Iraq the authorities quarantined a hotel in the holy Shiite city of Karbala after a Saudi pilgrim staying there tested positive for swine flu.
India and South Africa had both reported their first fatalities from the A(H1N1) virus late on Monday.
The WHO estimates that seasonal flu causes about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths a year and results in about three to five million cases of severe illness.