The World Health Organization has declared swine flu a pandemic during an emergency meeting in Geneva today.

It is the first flu pandemic declaration in 41 years.

A W.H.O. spokesperson informed member nations of the decision after today's meeting.

The declaration of a pandemic will push drugmakers to fast-track production of a swine flu vaccine.

"It is likely in light of sustained community transmission in countries outside of North America - most notably in Australia - that level 6 will be declared," Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers.

Phase 6 is W.H.O.'s highest alert level and means that a swine flu pandemic is under way.

The last pandemic - the Hong Kong flu of 1968 - killed about 1 million people.

Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

Since swine flu first emerged in Mexico and the United States in April, it has spread to 74 countries around the globe.

On Wednesday, W.H.O. reported 27,737 cases including 141 deaths.

Most cases are mild and require no treatment, but the fear is that a rash of new infections could overwhelm hospitals and health authorities - especially in poorer countries.

In Washington, two people have died from the swine flu and 43 have been hospitalized.