WHO Officially Bids Farewell to H1N1 Pandemic

After 18,449 deaths, swine flu pandemic is pronounced to be at the end.  The H1N1 flu pandemic is officially at an end, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  The announcement came months after many nations canceled vaccine orders and shut down telephone hotlines as the illness disappeared from the headlines.  Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director, said that the pandemic had “largely run its course” and that the phase six alert – the highest influenza level – is officially at an end.  “I fully agree with the committee’s advice,” Chan said.  At present, the virus is in the “post-pandemic” phase, meaning disease activity has returned to levels normally seen for seasonal flu bugs.

Chan cautioned against complacency, noting that “It is likely that the virus will continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups”, she said and urged high-risk individuals such as pregnant women to be vaccinated against the disease.  A total of 18,449 people have died across the globe since the H1N1 flu first appeared in April of 2009.  Chan defended her decision to declare swine flu a pandemic, saying it was based on the globally agreed rules that were in place at the time.  “We have been aided by pure good luck,” she said, noting that if the virus had mutated, the death rate would have soared.  Angus Nicoll, flu program coordinator with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said the declaration that the pandemic had ended was consistent with the Stockholm-based organization’s views.

An interesting point is that while reports of flu in the northern hemisphere are at seasonal lows, nations in the southern hemisphere (where it is currently winter) show few people are seriously ill with swine flu, Nicoll said.  Still, healthcare workers should get ready for a new seasonal flu that will combine elements of the pandemic H1N1 strain, the older H3N2 strain and additional lesser strains, according to Nicoll, who said “It looks sort of middle of the road at the moment.”

“Lurking in the background we still have H5N1,” Chan said in a reference to the bird flu that has sickened 503 people over seven years and killed 299 of them.  Chan’s advice for the future is for people to get their usual seasonal flu shot this fall to protect against the disease.

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