Swine Flu Alert Level Raised by WHO

The long-awaited pandemic announcement is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe. WHO will now ask drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine. The declaration will also prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.

This means that the alert level is going to Level Six.

Ominously, WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said: “The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century, … The (swine flu) virus is now unstoppable.”

We are warned that a second wave of the flu may pass through areas that have already experienced a first wave. We are also told that this flu is badly affecting a relatively larger percentage of relatively healthy people than does seasonal flu (another hallmark of the 1918 pandemic).

The core of the statement by WHO’s director is:

On present evidence, the overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment.

Worldwide, the number of deaths is small. … we do not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe or fatal infections.

We know that the novel H1N1 virus preferentially infects younger people. In nearly all areas with large and sustained outbreaks, the majority of cases have occurred in people under the age of 25 years.

In some of these countries, around 2% of cases have developed severe illness, often with very rapid progression to life-threatening pneumonia.

Most cases of severe and fatal infections have been in adults between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

This pattern is significantly different from that seen during epidemics of seasonal influenza, when most deaths occur in frail elderly people.

Many, though not all, severe cases have occurred in people with underlying chronic conditions. …

At the same time, it is important to note that around one third to half of the severe and fatal infections are occurring in previously healthy young and middle-aged people.

Without question, pregnant women are at increased risk of complications. This heightened risk takes on added importance for a virus, like this one, that preferentially infects younger age groups.

Finally, and perhaps of greatest concern, we do not know how this virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world. To date, the vast majority of cases have been detected and investigated in comparatively well-off countries.

Sources:

MSNBC
WHO

Comments

  1. #1 Jackal
    June 11, 2009

    “We are warned that a second wave of the flu may pass through areas that have already experienced a first wave.”

    Does this mean that the virus will mutate to the point that the antibodies of people who got it on the first wave will no longer be effective? If so, does that mean a vaccine will no longer be effective against the new virus?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    June 11, 2009

    Jackel: Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Most likely people who got it the first time will be resistant to the second wave, and most likely a vaccine will be effective.

  3. #3 Chrystal K.
    June 11, 2009

    Is swine flu anymore dangerous than the regular flu that we’re used to?

  4. #4 long island gal
    June 12, 2009

    At this kind of level declared by WHO, swine flu should not be taken for granted by people. This is totally serious. There may be some medicines to cure it, it would always be better to prevent it. Everything that we do must be done carefully because once we have it, we might not notice it and get worse.

  5. #5 air monitoring
    June 12, 2009

    The flu has a way of evolving into deadlier more resistant strains, and that is what causes the most concern. It seems like we should all eat less pork, thereby reducing hog factory populations, and that may slow down the evolution of future flu strains?

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    June 12, 2009

    Right now the swine flu is just regular flu, meaning that if it took th enormal course of “seasonal” (regular) flue then, for instance, about 30 or 40 thousand people would die in the US.

    So yes, swine flue is serious because all flu is serious.

    Now, out of season flu and flu with swine links, for various reasons, historically can becom extra bad. In the case of the 1918 flu, which killed off a measurable percentage of our species, a swine-something else ‘hybrid’ came around out of season and made lots of people sick but was kind of average for a flu, then went away, then came back and was as bad as anyone could imagine.

    The fear is that this will happen today, but we have some tools to deal with this that may help.

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