WHO Declares Swine Flu Pandemic

(BBC) – THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO) has declared a global flu pandemic after holding an emergency meeting.

It means the swine flu virus is spreading in at least two regions of the world with rising cases being seen in the UK, Australia, Japan and Chile.

WHO chief Dr Margaret Chan said the move does not mean the virus is causing more severe illness or more deaths.

The swine flu (H1N1) virus first emerged in Mexico in April and has since spread to 74 countries.

Official reports say there have been nearly 30,000 cases globally and 141 deaths with figures rising daily.

Hong Kong said it was closing all its nurseries and primary schools for two weeks following 12 school cases.

It is the first flu pandemic in 40 years — the last in 1968 killed about one million people. However, the current pandemic seems to be moderate and causing mild illness in most people. Most cases are occurring in young working age adults and a third to a half of complications are presenting in otherwise healthy people.

Dr Chan said: ‘We have evidence to suggest we are seeing the first pandemic of the 21st century.

‘Moving to pandemic phase six does not imply we will see increases in deaths or serious cases.’

She added it was important to get the right balance between complacency and vigilance, and that pandemic strategies would vary between countries depending on their specific situation.

The WHO does not recommend closure of borders. or any restrictions on the movement of people, goods or services; but the picture could change very quickly.

‘No other pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely,’ Dr Chan said.

One factor which has prompted the move to a level six pandemic was that, in the southern hemisphere, the virus seems to be crowding out normal seasonal influenza.

The move was not prompted by the situation in any one country; but the reports of several pockets of community spread, officials said.

The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, in Geneva, says that while the number of cases has made the declaration inevitable, the WHO will have to manage the global anxiety the declaration of a pandemic will generate.

Experts have warned that poorer nations, especially those in the southern hemisphere now heading into their winter season, face the greatest risk from the flu pandemic.

… (BBC, 13/06/2009) – More swine flu cases in England

… (14/06/2009) – First UK Swine Flu Death

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