Swine flu 'pandemic' declared

The World Health Organization told its member nations it was declaring a swine flu pandemic today - the first global flu epidemic in 41 years - as infections in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere climbed to nearly 30,000 cases.

The long-awaited pandemic announcement is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe. WHO will now ask drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine. The declaration will also prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.



WHO chief Dr Margaret Chan made the announcement Thursday after the U.N. agency held an emergency meeting with flu experts. Chan said she was moving the world to phase 6 — the agency's highest alert level — which means a pandemic, or global epidemic, is under way.



"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan told reporters. "The (swine flu) virus is now unstoppable."



On Wednesday, WHO said 74 countries had reported nearly 27,737 cases of swine flu, including 141 deaths. Chan described the virus as "moderate." According to WHO's pandemic criteria, a global outbreak has begun when a new flu virus begins spreading in two world regions.



The agency has stressed that most cases are mild and require no treatment, but the fear is that a rash of new infections could overwhelm hospitals and health authorities — especially in poorer countries.



Still, about half of the people who have died from swine flu were previously young and healthy — people who are not usually susceptible to flu. Swine flu is also crowding out regular flu viruses. Both features are typical of pandemic flu viruses.



The last pandemic — the Hong Kong flu of 1968 — killed about 1 million people. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.



Swine flu is also continuing to spread during the start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Normally, flu viruses disappear with warm weather, but swine flu is proving to be resilient.



The decision might have been made much earlier if WHO had more accurate information about swine flu's rising sweep through Europe. Chan said she called the emergency meeting with flu experts after concerns were raised that some countries like Britain were not accurately reporting their cases.



After Thursday's meeting, Chan said the experts agreed there was wider spread of swine flu than what was being reported.



Chan would not say which country tipped the world into the pandemic, but said all countries and experts were agreed that it was time to declare a global outbreak.



WHO said it was now recommending that flu vaccine makers start making swine flu vaccine. Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC said they could start large-scale production of pandemic vaccine in July but that it would take several months before large quantities would be available.



Many health experts say WHO's pandemic declaration could have come weeks earlier but the agency became bogged down by politics. In May, several countries urged WHO not to declare a pandemic, fearing it would cause social and economic turmoil.



"This is WHO finally catching up with the facts," said Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota who has advised the U.S. government on pandemic preparations.



Despite WHO's hopes, Thursday's announcement will almost certainly spark panic about spread of swine flu in some countries.



Fear has already gripped Argentina, where thousands of people worried about swine flu flooded into hospitals this week, bringing emergency health services in the capital of Buenos Aires to the brink of collapse. Last month, a bus arriving in Argentina from Chile was stoned by people who thought a passenger on it had swine flu. Chile has the most swine flu cases in South America, just as the southern hemisphere moves into its winter flu season.



In Hong Kong on Thursday, the government ordered all kindergartens and primary schools closed for two weeks after a dozen students tested positive for swine flu — a move that many flu experts would consider an overreaction. The decision affected over half a million students.



In the United States, where there have been more than 13,000 cases and at least 27 deaths from swine flu, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the move would not change how the U.S. tackled swine flu.



"Our actions in the past month have been as if there was a pandemic in this country," Glen Nowak, a CDC spokesman, said Thursday.



The U.S. government has already taken steps like increasing availability of flu-fighting medicines and authorizing $1 billion for the development of a new vaccine against the novel virus. In addition, new cases seem to be declining in many parts of the country, U.S. health officials say, as North America moves out of its traditional



In Mexico, where the epidemic was first detected, the outbreak peaked in April. Mexico now has less than 30 cases reported a day, down from an average of 300, Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova told The Associated Press. Mexico has confirmed 6,337 cases, including 108 deaths.



A resurgence is unlikely but Cordova said a second wave of the virus in November or December could not be ruled out.



Cordova said he is concerned that other countries are not taking drastic measures to stop its spread like Mexico, which closed schools, restaurants, theaters, and canceled public events after the government detected the epidemic in late April.



Many experts said the declaration of a pandemic did not mean the virus was getting deadlier.



"People might imagine a virus is now going to rush in and kill everyone," said John Oxford, a professor of virology at St. Bart's and Royal London Hospital. "That's not going to happen."



But Oxford said the swine flu virus might evolve into a more dangerous strain in the future. "That is always a possibility with influenza viruses," he said. "We have to watch very carefully to see what this virus does."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement