WHO: World 'Very Close' to Swine Flu PandemicThe World Health Organization (WHO) says the world is ever closer to a swine flu pandemic. "We are getting very, very close," says Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general.
Under the WHO's guidelines, one key criteria for declaring a pandemic is established community spread in a country outside the first region in which the disease was initially reported. The H1N1 flu virus was first found in the Americas. Now, in Australia, there is "a great deal of activity in Victoria at the community level," Fukuda says. So far, WHO has left its six-level pandemic alert scale unchanged at phase five. Phase five signals a pandemic is "imminent."
The UN health agency's guidelines initially focus on the geographical criteria to justify a phase change. However, member states have called on the agency to take other elements, such as severity of the disease into account.
Fukuda says the role of severity has not come into the picture. By going to phase six, what this would mean is that the spread of the virus continues and activity has become established in at least two regions in the world, he notes. "It doesn't mean that the severity of the situation has increased."
To update the swine flu situation throughout the world, there are 26,563 infections, including 140 deaths, that have been reported to the health agency from 73 countries. Fukuda points in particular to the situation in Inuit communities in Canada, where a disproportionate number of serious cases are being reported. What concerns Fukuda is that in past pandemics the Inuit populations were severely hit.