WHO Says H1N1 Remains Pandemic

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on Thursday announced the WHO still considers H1N1 (swine) flu a pandemic, despite the fact “its most intense activity has passed in many parts of the world,” Reuters reports (Lynn, 6/3).

Chan released a statement regarding the WHO’s decision, which came “two days after a virtual meeting of international flu experts who advise her on setting the global body’s pandemic alert level,” the Associated Press reports (6/3).

“Chan’s decision, based on the committee’s recommendation, means that the outbreak, widely known as swine flu, remains at phase 6 on the WHO’s pandemic scale,” where it has been since June 2009, Reuters continues, adding that the WHO’s “guidance on whether a disease constitutes a pandemic determines how its 193 member governments handle an outbreak, including stockpiling vaccines and antivirals” (6/3).

“Committee members stressed that it remains critical for countries to continue to maintain vigilance concerning the pandemic, including all necessary public health measures for disease control as well as influenza virus and disease surveillance,” Chan said in the WHO statement. According to Chan, the Emergency Committee will reassess the status of H1N1 during a meeting in mid-July, “when information from the winter influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere will be available” (6/3).

“It is predicted that H1N1 will continue to be the primary or overwhelming virus among influenza viruses for quite a while,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said on Tuesday, according to Reuters. “Pandemic or no pandemic, H1N1 will still exist. If there is no pandemic, it means that H1N1 is behaving like a normal flu virus”(6/3).

“Tropical areas of the Caribbean and South Asia are currently the most active areas for the pandemic, with a ‘relatively low level of resurgence of cases,'” Agence France-Presse reports. “However, last year those areas experienced their most intense bouts of swine flu in July, the WHO underlined” (6/3). “Laboratory tests have confirmed more than 18,000 deaths from H1N1 infection, according to WHO figures, but the actual global death toll is much higher and will take at least a year after the pandemic ends to establish,” Reuters reports.

In related news, U.S. “health officials released a report Wednesday that said the swine flu vaccination presented no greater threat than the seasonal flu shot in regards to a paralyzing nerve disease” known as Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

“The worrisome link between swine flu vaccine and … Guillain-Barre syndrome was heightened in 1976, when dozens of cases broke out during a swine flu vaccination campaign, prompting the federal government to shut down the effort,” the newspaper adds. But analysis by the CDC, published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “revealed that about the same rate of people contracted GBS after receiving this recent swine flu vaccine as have historically contracted it from common flu vaccine,” according to the newspaper.

Based on additional analysis of the reported side effects of the H1N1 vaccine so far, the CDC has concluded the vaccine to be safe, according to the newspaper (Schneider, 6/2).

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