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Swine flu: 'All of humanity under threat', WHO warns
04-30-2009, 06:23 PM,
Swine flu: 'All of humanity under threat', WHO warns
Quote:The World Health Organisation has warned that "all of humanity is under threat" from a potential swine flu pandemic and called for "global solidarity" to combat the virus.

The plea came as the WHO raised the swine flu threat awareness level to 5 out of 6, indicating that the world is on the brink of a pandemic.

Holland and Switzerland both confirmed their first cases of swine flu on Thursday, bringing the total number of countries affected around the world to 11.

In Mexico there have been eight confirmed deaths from the virus, with another 160 suspected swine flu fatalities.

There have been 93 confirmed cases in the US, 19 in Canada, 13 in New Zealand, five in Britain, four in Germany, 10 in Spain, two in Israel, and one in Austria.

The US has confirmed the first death outside of Mexico on Wednesday, while a further "probable" case of swine flu has emerged in Glasgow, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs today. The new case is someone with travel links to an affected area, but he also disclosed that Iain and Dawn Askham - the first confirmed cases of the disease - had now been released from Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire, where they had been receiving treatment in an isolation ward.

Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, urged all countries to activate their pandemic plans as she made the announcement on Wednesday night.

Phase 5 indicates that there is evidence of the virus being spread from human-to-human in at least two countries in one WHO region. Phase 6, the pandemic phase, is characterised by increased and sustained transmission in the general population.

Dr Chan said that the world was better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history.

However, she warned that the threat "must be taken seriously" due to the ability of the swine flu swine flu virus to spread rapidly across the world.

Dr Chan said that raising the phase of alert was a signal to governments, health officials and the pharmaceutical industry to take urgent action in readiness to tackle a pandemic.

Speaking at a conference in Geneva, Dr Chan said: "Above all this is an opportunity for global solidarity as we look for responses and solutions that benefit all countries, all of humanity.

"After all it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.

"The international community should treat this as a window of opportunity to ramp up preparedness and response.

"Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously, precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world.

"For the first time in history we can track the evolution of a pandemic in real time. Influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behaviour.

"All countries should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia."

She added: "Based on assessment of all available information and following several expert consultations, I have decided to raise the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5.

"This change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to governments, to ministries of health and other ministries, to the pharmaceutical industry and the business community that certain actions now should be undertaken with increased urgency and at an accelerated pace."

The announcement came on the same day that the Prime Minister Gordon Brown disclosed that there are now five confirmed cases of swine flu in Britain.

Among them is a 12-year-old girl from Devon, who recently flew back to Britain on the same flight as the first two people who tested positive for the virus – Scottish couple Dawn and Iain Askham.

The news prompted the closure of the girl's secondary school in Paignton, Devon, and 200 pupils there have been prescribed the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

In response to the WHO's alert, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's Chief Medical Adviser, said that Britain was well prepared for a pandemic.

Sir Liam said: "Phase five indicates that WHO considers a global pandemic to be imminent, whereas at phase four a global pandemic is not inevitable.

"A change to phase five is a signal to countries' governments to ramp up their pandemic preparations – which we are already doing.

"We have been planning for a situation like this for some years. The preparations we have in place and are continuing to make will help to ensure we respond well in the event of a pandemic.

"If you have returned from an affected area and have flu like symptoms stay at home, call your GP or NHS Direct and you will be assessed and receive treatment if necessary."

The UK will see "many more cases" of swine flu as the virus spreads but most people will make a good recovery, the Government's Chief Medical Officer said today.

He told BBC Breakfast on Thursday : "Most people who get flu, even a new strain of flu, will make a good recovery. It's a nasty illness but it's short and they will recover.

"To put things in proportion, in any flu, even the seasonal flu, there are some deaths, often of elderly people and the very frail.

"What we will see is many more cases, but on the whole most people make a good recovery from flu."

But bacteriology expert Professor Hugh Pennington, of the University of Aberdeen, said the WHO may have raised the level to five slightly prematurely to keep everybody as alert as possible.

He said: "A five is where there's good evidence of transmission outside of one country and we're a little bit short of that.

"I suspect they just want to keep everybody on their toes.

"They are only one short of a pandemic but there has got to be very good evidence of transmission outside of where the virus started for it to be a pandemic.

"There are various definitions of a pandemic but the consensus view would be worldwide spread affecting all ages."

He added that if swine flu does reach pandemic levels the scenario might not be as bad as people expect.

He said: "We've been thinking of pandemic as shock, horror, millions of people will die.

"Of course it may not be quite as bad as that. It may still be a pandemic with an ordinary flu virus that affects a lot of people and will still unfortunately kill people that are in the high risk groups."

He said it could take four or five months to develop a vaccine against the virus.

The WHO's Dr Chan explained that the decision to raise the awareness level from 4 to 5 was taken because evidence had emerged of human-to-human transmission in Mexico and the US, which are in the same WHO region.

Evidence of human-to-human transmission has also been seen in Spain.

With an elevated pandemic alert level, WHO might also issue travel advisories, warning against non-essential travel to regions battling outbreaks, trade restrictions, the cancellation of public events or border closures.
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