WHO May Declare Swine Flu Pandemic Alert

The World Health Organization held an emergency swine flu meeting Thursday and was likely to declare the first flu pandemic in 41 years as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere.

Health officials from Scotland, Indonesia and Thailand said the agency would declare a swine flu pandemic – a global epidemic – on Thursday after a teleconference with leading flu experts. Officials at U.N. missions in Geneva also said they expected the imminent announcement of a pandemic.

WHO spokesman Thomas Abraham said only that the emergency meeting began at noon (1000 GMT, 6 a.m. EDT) in Geneva and WHO member nations would then be informed of the result.

“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, adding it would be Thursday.

Indonesian health minister Siti Fadilah Supari said she had been notified by WHO that “today will be declared to be phase 6.”

Phase 6 is WHO’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.

To raise the flu alert to its highest level, Level 6, the W.H.O. would need to find evidence of widespread “community transmission” — meaning beyond travelers, schools and immediate contacts — on two continents. The organization scheduled a news conference for 6 p.m. Geneva time Thursday (12 p.m. in New York) to announce the meeting’s findings.

In an effort to avoid triggering panic with such an announcement, W.H.O. officials have been at pains to emphasize that declaring a full-blown pandemic would reflect the global spread of the disease, not an increase in its severity.

In its latest report, the W.H.O. said Wednesday that 74 countries had reported 27,737 cases of the disease, and 141 deaths. Since the outbreak started in April, the number of cases and deaths has been heavily concentrated in the Americas.

The agency is debating new rules for assessing global disease outbreaks. If it declares a Level 6 pandemic for the H1N1 virus, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the agency’s chief of flu said last week, it may add a caveat indicating that the disease is not very lethal.

So far, international health officials have said the flu appears to be less deadly than the annual bouts of seasonal flu that sweep the globe each year. But they have warned that the virus could mutate into a more lethal strain during the southern hemisphere’s upcoming winter flu season. If a pandemic is declared, it will trigger drug makers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money to containing the virus.

Adapted from International Press Reports


One Response to WHO May Declare Swine Flu Pandemic Alert

  1. Pingback: Deadly 3rd Wave Swine Flu Pandemic Coming!!! Is Barbados Ready? « Bajan Global Report

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