The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the world is now on Phase 6 of its alert of the A(H1N1) flu or swine flu, the highest level signaling a pandemic.In a press statement, WHO's Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, stated that the virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another, and from one country to another with nearly 30,000 confirmed cases reported in 74 countries as of yesterday.
Spread in several countries can no longer be traced to clearly-defined chains of human-to-human transmission. Further spread is considered inevitable.
I have conferred with leading influenza experts, virologists, and public health officials. In line with procedures set out in the International Health Regulations, I have sought guidance and advice from an Emergency Committee established for this purpose.
On the basis of available evidence, and these expert assessments of the evidence, the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met.
I have therefore decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 5 to phase 6.
The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.
However, Dr. Chan states that the world is in the early days of the pandemic and the virus is spreading under a close and careful watch.
No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning. The world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness.
We have a head start. This places us in a strong position.
According to the statement, the H1N1 virus preferentially infects younger people whereby in nearly all areas with large and sustained outbreaks, the majority of cases have occurred in people under the age of 25 years.
Dr. Chan also states that of greatest concern is how the virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world as to date, the vast majority of cases have been detected and investigated in comparatively well-off countries.
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.
So far, WHO continues to recommend no restrictions on travel and no border closures.
The region recorded its first case last week in French Polynesia (Tahiti).
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