Tag Archives: influenza pandemic

WHO Says New H1N1 Flu Virus Is ‘Unstoppable’

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 94,512 cases of H1N1 flu virus worldwide, and 429 of those cases have resulted in death. Many people thought the swine flu had just gone away after everyone pretty much laughed at the way our US health officials ‘overreacted’ to the threat of this new flu virus. But make no mistake, the swine flu has not gone away. In fact, last month the WHO declared a Phase 6 Influenza Pandemic. Furthermore, the US is one of the most affected nations. Out of the 94,512 reported worldwide over the past few months, more than 33,000 of them have been in the United States, resulting in 170 deaths from the H1N1 flu virus in the U.S. Here are the current stats for the United States:

  • 94,512 cases of H1N1 virus worldwide
  • 429 deaths from H1N1 virus worldwide
  • 33,902 cases in the United States (36% of all cases have been in the US)
  • 170 deaths in the United States (40% of all deaths have been in the US)

Those stats are very alarming, considering the fact that we are not currently in flu season here in the US. That’s why this story is so crazy. Just imagine what those numbers could be when flu season hits.

Here is a map of the worldwide distribution of the H1N1 flu virus as reported by the World Health Organization:

Global Map of H1N1 Flu Virus Cases (July 2009)
Global Map of H1N1 Flu Virus Cases (July 2009)

According to an article at Reuters, the WHO has declared the H1N1 virus to be ‘unstoppable’. Furthermore, the World Health Organization has given drug manufacturers a green light to produce vaccines against the current pandemic H1N1 strain of the influenza virus. Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research said, “The committee recognized that the H1N1 pandemic … is unstoppable and therefore that all countries need access to vaccine.” The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, or SAGE, recommends that all nations provide a vaccine to their health workers – nurses, doctors and technicians. Then, each nation must create a priority list for vaccinations. Uh oh. I wonder where bloggers will be on the list.

Apparently, the elderly have an advantage over this flu virus:

The elderly seem to have some extra immunity to this new H1N1, which is a mixture of two swine viruses, one of which also contains genetic material from birds and humans. It is a very distant cousin of the H1N1 virus that caused the 1918 pandemic that killed 50 million to 100 million people.

Recently, the UK has seen a rise in H1N1 flu virus cases, and they are very alarming because a few healthy people have died from the virus. Most notably, a healthy 6-year-old girl contracted the virus. She got a sore throat, and then 2 days later she was dead. A healthy doctor also died from the virus in the UK:

The deaths of Chloe Buckley, six, and Dr. Michael Day  mean three people with no previous health problems have now died of the illness out of a total of 17 deaths across Britain.

Sorry about the doom and gloom Tuesday. Whatever you do, don’t laugh at the H1N1 swine flu. It’s a very distant cousin of the influenza virus of 1918, which killed an estimated 50-100 million people while infecting upwards of 500 million people. Please take this virus seriously. If you can get a vaccination, please do.

Update (7-16-2009):

  • World Health Organization: H1N1 pandemic spreading too fast to count (Reuters)

“The 2009 influenza pandemic has spread internationally with unprecedented speed. In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed more than six months to spread as widely as the new H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks.”

WHO Announces 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic – First Phase 6 Influenza Pandemic Since 1968

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), announces 2009 Swine Flu Influenza Pandemic
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), announces 2009 Swine Flu Influenza Pandemic

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the first global flu pandemic of the 21st century (Reuters). This means that the current flu outbreak has reached Phase 6 on the Pandemic Scale. The WHO’s 2009 influenza pandemic announcement was made by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), citing the rise of swine flu infections to nearly 30,000 cases in the United States, South America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. Dr. Chan has her finger on the global pandemic alert button, and in her opinion a global outbreak of swine flu has begun. Here are some of Dr. Chan’s quotes from today’s announcement:

The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.

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. As of today, nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries.

Globally, we have good reason to believe that this pandemic, at least in its early days, will be of moderate severity. As we know from experience, severity can vary, depending on many factors, from one country to another.

I did not previously know that there were 6 phases in the Pandemic scale. Here is a breakdown of the Pandemic Phase system from the Flu Wiki:

Interpandemic period
Phase 1
No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. An influenza virus subtype that has caused human infection may be present in animals. If present in animals, the risk of human infection or disease is considered to be low.
Phase 2
No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. However, a circulating animal influenza virus subtype poses a substantial risk1 of human disease.

Pandemic alert period
Phase 3
Human infection(s) with a new subtype, but no human-to-human spread, or at most rare instances of spread to a close contact.
Phase 4
Small cluster(s) with limited human-to-human transmission but spread is highly localized, suggesting that the virus is not well adapted to humans.2
Phase 5
Larger cluster(s) but human-to-human spread still localized, suggesting that the virus is becoming increasingly better adapted to humans, but may not yet be fully transmissible (substantial pandemic risk).

Pandemic period
Phase 6
Pandemic: increased and sustained transmission in general population.

Postpandemic period
Return to interpandemic period.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization has a Phase 6 information page that describes Phase 6 in much more detail.

While the thought of a global pandemic is scary to me, Dr. Chan’s statement reiterated that this H1N1 swine flu virus is relatively moderate in severity. Only 2% of cases have caused severe illness, but those 2% of cases have been in adults, ages 30-50. These are adults in their prime! The flu typically causes severe illness in the elderly. To hear Dr. Chan say that this flu virus is causing severe illness in young adults is kinda scary.

Dr. Chan goes on to describe her concerns that this swine flu virus will continue to spread, but there are no plans to restrict travel and there are no plans to close borders. The most hope-filled part of the statement is the part where Dr. Chan says that the “production of vaccines for seasonal influenza will be completed soon, and that full capacity will be available to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come.” That is good news. Previously, everyone was frightened because this strain of flu was new, and there were no vaccines for it. Now it seems that there is a vaccine in production, and it will soon be available to those who need it.

Even with the good news, please take every precaution to avoid the swine flu. For more safety precautions and information about the Influenza A(H1N1) virus, please check out the World Health Organization’s website and their full coverage of the swine flu pandemic: