Only months after the first reported swine flu case, World Health Organization (WHO) officials declared the new virus strain a worldwide epidemic due to its rapid spread through everyday human-to-human contact, raising its alert from phase five to six, the highest pandemic designation.
A statement issued on June 11 by WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said, “In late April, WHO announced the emergence of a novel influenza A virus [swine flu]. 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. Spread in several countries can no longer be traced to clearly-defined chains of human-to-human transmission. Further spread is considered inevitable.”
After conferring with leading influenza experts and receiving advice from an emergency committee Dr. Chan raised the influenza pandemic alert from phase five to phase six (from community-level outbreak to spreading from country to country—as in from Europe to Asia).
“The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic,” she said.
The WHO raised the pandemic level of its “global influenza preparedness plan” due to the virus’s rapid spread to all parts of the world—not the severity of the flu strain.
“Although the pandemic appears to have moderate severity in comparatively well-off countries, it is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads to areas with limited resources, poor health care, and a high prevalence of underlying medical problems,” Dr. Chan warned. “Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection.”
To date, 3,253 new cases of H1N1 outbreaks have appeared in the Western Pacific region, with Australia reportedly having 1,853 cases; Japan, 605; China, 362; and the Philippines, 193. There were also cases reported in Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.
Global Influenza Tally (as of June 16) reported 36,024 cases of swine flu infection, including 163 deaths in 75 countries. Nations with the highest H1N1 incidence included Mexico—6,241 cases and 108 deaths; the U.S.— 17,855 cases and 45 deaths; Canada—2,978 cases and four deaths; and Chile—1,694 cases and two deaths.