Today the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the first global flu pandemic of the 21st century (Reuters). This means that the current flu outbreak has reached Phase 6 on the Pandemic Scale. The WHO’s 2009 influenza pandemic announcement was made by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), citing the rise of swine flu infections to nearly 30,000 cases in the United States, South America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. Dr. Chan has her finger on the global pandemic alert button, and in her opinion a global outbreak of swine flu has begun. Here are some of Dr. Chan’s quotes from today’s announcement:
The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.
This particular H1N1 strain has not circulated previously in humans. The virus is entirely new.
The virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another, and from one country to another. As of today, nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries.
Globally, we have good reason to believe that this pandemic, at least in its early days, will be of moderate severity. As we know from experience, severity can vary, depending on many factors, from one country to another.
I did not previously know that there were 6 phases in the Pandemic scale. Here is a breakdown of the Pandemic Phase system from the Flu Wiki:
No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. An influenza virus subtype that has caused human infection may be present in animals. If present in animals, the risk of human infection or disease is considered to be low.
No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. However, a circulating animal influenza virus subtype poses a substantial risk1 of human disease.
Pandemic alert period
Human infection(s) with a new subtype, but no human-to-human spread, or at most rare instances of spread to a close contact.
Small cluster(s) with limited human-to-human transmission but spread is highly localized, suggesting that the virus is not well adapted to humans.2
Larger cluster(s) but human-to-human spread still localized, suggesting that the virus is becoming increasingly better adapted to humans, but may not yet be fully transmissible (substantial pandemic risk).
Pandemic: increased and sustained transmission in general population.
Return to interpandemic period.
Furthermore, the World Health Organization has a Phase 6 information page that describes Phase 6 in much more detail.
While the thought of a global pandemic is scary to me, Dr. Chan’s statement reiterated that this H1N1 swine flu virus is relatively moderate in severity. Only 2% of cases have caused severe illness, but those 2% of cases have been in adults, ages 30-50. These are adults in their prime! The flu typically causes severe illness in the elderly. To hear Dr. Chan say that this flu virus is causing severe illness in young adults is kinda scary.
Dr. Chan goes on to describe her concerns that this swine flu virus will continue to spread, but there are no plans to restrict travel and there are no plans to close borders. The most hope-filled part of the statement is the part where Dr. Chan says that the “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.” That is good news. Previously, everyone was frightened because this strain of flu was new, and there were no vaccines for it. Now it seems that there is a vaccine in production, and it will soon be available to those who need it.
Even with the good news, please take every precaution to avoid the swine flu. For more safety precautions and information about the Influenza A(H1N1) virus, please check out the World Health Organization’s website and their full coverage of the swine flu pandemic: