Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of The World Health Organization, in a statement to the press, announced that H1N1 (swine flu) now meets the criteria of a pandemic, raising the alert level from phase five to phase six.
She went on to say,
“A characteristic feature of pandemics is their rapid spread to all parts of the world. In the previous century, this spread has typically taken around 6 to 9 months, even during times when most international travel was by ship or rail. Guidance on specific protective and precautionary measures has been sent to ministries of health in all countries. Countries with no or only a few cases should remain vigilant.
Countries with widespread transmission should focus on the appropriate management of patients. The testing and investigation of patients should be limited, as such measures are resource intensive and can very quickly strain capacities.
WHO has been in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers. I understand that production of vaccines for seasonal influenza will be completed soon, and that full capacity will be available to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come.
Pending the availability of vaccines, several non-pharmaceutical interventions can confer some protection.
WHO continues to recommend no restrictions on travel and no border closures.
Influenza pandemics, whether moderate or severe, are remarkable events because of the almost universal susceptibility of the world’s population to infection.
Countries should prepare to see cases, or the further spread of cases, in the near future. Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection.”
As of this writing, 30,000 cases have been confirmed in 74 countries. The H1N1 strain in a new virus — not previously circulated in humans — and further spread is considered inevitable.
The majority of patients have mild symptoms and make rapid recovery, often without medical care, with the number of deaths worldwide remaining small. Particularly at risk are pregnant women and people with chronic illness, including respiratory disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and cardiovascular disease. However, one third to half of the severe and fatal infections have occurred in previously healthy young and middle-aged people.
Of concern to The WHO is the fact that to date, tracking of the virus has been mostly in well-off countries, leaving questions remaining as to how the virus will manifest itself in developing countries with limited access to vital resources.