The World Health Organisation has stated today that it is declaring an H1N1 virus swine flu pandemic, raising its alert level to the maximum of six. The Department of Health said that the WHO announcement had no immediate implications for the public, but could prompt governments to take extra prevention measures, such as imposing travel bans and ordering increased vaccine production.
In government and politics newsgroups, many are discussing on how it’s the first global pandemic over the last 41 years. The last global flu pandemic came in 1968 over the “Hong Kong” flu, which killed about a million people worldwide. Moving to phase 6 (the highest level) means a pandemic has been confirmed and the H1N1 virus is spreading from person to person in a sustained manner outside North America, where the outbreak began in April. A pandemic declaration indicates geographic spread, not the severity of the illness.
The virus first emerged in Mexico in April and has now spread to 74 countries with a reported 27,000 cases and 141 deaths. The decision to raise its global alert level from five to six — officially signalling a pandemic — came after a day-long emergency meeting of the WHO to discuss the implications of widespread outbreaks of illness in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
As stated in press releases and various USENET newsgroups, moving to phase six will trigger a large scale production of vaccines. The WHO has been quoted stating in newsgroups that phase six would reflect the fact that the disease, widely known as swine flu, is spreading geographically, but not necessarily indicate how virulent it is. It could take up to six months before large amounts of a swine flu vaccine are available.
WHO says its pandemic announcement would not mean the situation was worsening, since no mutations have been detected in the virus to show it is getting more deadly.