Geneva, June 11: The formal declaration of swine flu as the first global pandemic in 41 years was issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) after elevating the pandemic warning level from five to six, the highest level on its scale.
The high alert came after an emergency meeting with experts assessing the sharp rise in cases across the globe. The swine flu has emerged in 74 countries and is responsible for 27,737 cases of illness and 141 deaths.
WHO Director Margaret Chan declared, "The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century. We are in the earliest phase of the pandemic, the virus is spreading under a close and careful watch, no previous pandemic had been detected so early or watched so closely in real time, right at the very beginning.”
Situation stable but need for caution
WHO is in urging nations, with a view to averting panic, not to over react to the increased alert level. It is recommending no restrictions on travel, and no border closures. It also said that the current pandemic is moderate and only causing mild illness in most people
Chan announced that declaring a pandemic does not mean the disease has become more severe, but that there is an increasing number of infections in different geographical locations.
She stated, "Spread in several countries can no longer be traced to clearly defined chains of human-to-human transmission. Further spread is considered inevitable."
According to the WHO, a Phase six alert will get governments to spend more money to contain the outbreak, and trigger drug companies to speed up production of a vaccine so that complacency does not set in.
“This is WHO finally catching up with the facts,” said Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota. “I think a lot of people think we’re done with swine flu, but you can’t fall asleep at the wheel.”
The first cases of swine flu originated in Mexico in April, before traveling overseas primarily through visitors to the country. Though the swine flu has been less deadly than originally anticipated, and appears to be on the wane after peaking last month, the WHO has warned that the virus could mutate into a more deadly form and nations "should prepare for a second wave".
"The virus writes the rules, and this one, like all influenza viruses, can change the rules without any rhyme or reason," Chan said.
Swine flu in U.S.
The United States has recorded more than 13,000 cases of the swine flu, including at least 27 deaths. So far 1,000 people have been hospitalized from the illness.
The U.S. government has already been treating swine flu as a pandemic, so its actions are not likely to change.