Influenza A (h1n1) officially pandemic

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Yesterday the World Health Organisation stepped up the status of Influenza A (H1N1) to phase 6, which means the nature of the disease spread has become what is officially known as a pandemic. More people than ever are carrying so-called ‘swine flu’, which actually has a mixture of genes linked to pigs, birds and humans.

The change in risk is that now the rate of infection is rapidly accelerating, particularly in countries experiencing colder seasons. The effect of winter is thought to be the main factor behind sudden increases of flu incidence in Australia and Chile.

What does it mean?

Phase 6 was expected, as part of the normal process of worldwide dispersal that influenza viruses achieve on a frequent basis. So does the change in global status to ‘pandemic’ change the way the UK is preparing or acting to control Influenza A H1N1? Is the strategy any different to the normal control measures for influenza?

UK Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, admitted “We recognised from the outset that we would be unlikely to prevent a widespread outbreak indefinitely.”

He said that at some point the focus would need to move from limiting the spread of a localised virus, to “mitigating the effects of a widespread virus,” and added, “That point has not been reached yet.”

Anti-viral drugs have been stockpiled, and vaccines are on order. Millions of face masks have been ordered, and yet the DirectGov flu advice says:
‘… there is no actual evidence that proves wearing a face mask will stop you getting the virus. It’s more effective to use tissues when sneezing and coughing and wash your hands regularly.’

Respirators and face masks are more likely to be supplied to those who have direct contact with the ill, such as healthcare professionals. Tight hygiene practices are the best way of preventing flu from spreading.

Old story?

Has the media frenzy on swine flu (as they insist on calling it) passed its sell by date? The world’s eyes were originally drawn to Mexico’s outbreak and the links to industrial livestock units were quickly alleged. The scene was set for a possible emergence of a highly deadly pandemic – based on the idea of it being the equivalent to the H5N1 avian influenza which the World Health Organisation is rightly concerned about.

However, the current situation has turned out to be very different from the feared pandemic scenario for H5N1 bird flu, which would overtake even the great 1918 influenza pandemic, because the unlucky people who have caught H5N1 have shown an extremely high rate of mortality.

Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, described the current pandemic as “moderately severe” and said that a surge of fatal case rates is not anticipated. Fewer than 150 people are thought to have died as a result of over 30,000 cases across nearly 80 countries. 
 
Perhaps pandemic prevention is a better investment of our attention? Read more…

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