First pandemic in 41 years
PANAMA. The World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic Thursday — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years — as infection...
PANAMA. The World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic Thursday — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years — as infections in the Americas, Europe, and elsewhere climbed to nearly 30,000 cases.
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, which it said would available after September.
WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan made the announcement Thursday after the UN agency held an emergency meeting with flu experts. Chan said she was moving to phase 6 — the agency's highest alert level — which means a pandemic, or global epidemic, is under way.
"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan told reporters. "The virus is now unstoppable."
"However, we do not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe and fatal infections," she added.
On Thursday, WHO said 74 countries had reported 28,774 cases of swine flu, including 144 deaths. Chan described the danger posed by the virus as "moderate."
The agency has stressed that most cases are mild and require no treatment, but the fear is that a rash of new infections could overw helm hospitals and health authorities — especially in poorer countries.
Still, about half of the people who have died from swine flu were previously young and healthy — people who are not usually susceptible to flu. Swine flu is also crowding out regular flu viruses. Both features are typical of pandemic flu viruses.
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.
Swine flu is also continuing to spread during the start of summer in the northern hemi sphere. Normally, flu viruses disappear with warm weather, but swine flu is proving to be resilient.
"What this declaration does do is remind the world that flu viruses like H1N1 need to be taken seriously," said Kathleen Sebelius, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, warning that more cases could crop up in the fall.
Meanwhile, in Panama, with the recent announcement, Health Minister Rosario Turner reiterated the need to practice the recommendations that her office has repeatedly broadcast in the media, such as washing hands often, covering one’s mouth when sneezing or coughing, and avoiding activities where there are huge concentrations of people.
Turner also said the Ministry is ready to tackle any further spread of the virus.
The month-old baby with influenza A H1N1, the latest case to hit the media, is recuperating “satisfactorily” according to health authorities from the Children’s Hospital.
Turner recently visited the baby and said that she is stabilizing. Additionally, she said her office along with the First Lady’s office will evaluate the state of the baby’s residence in order to help her family better provide for her.
245 swine flu cases have been reported in Panama so far, with 65 percent of the patients completely recovered.