06/12/2009, 00.00
ASIA
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Swine Flu: global pandemic, the first in 21 century

The WHO decision does not refer to virulence or severity but only to the geographic spread. The virus is present in 74 nations and cannot be stopped. Calls for a vaccine; only be available in September. Greatest concerns for poorer nations in Southern Hemisphere, as winter arrives. The last pandemic dates to ’68 and led to the deaths of 1 million people. But the WHO is fearful of a scene similar to the Spanish flu of 1926 that led to the deaths of 50 million people.

Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a global flu pandemic for Swine Flu. The A/H1N1 virus has spread to 74 nations infecting more than 30,000 people and killing 141.

Schools and kindergartens are closed in Hong Kong and Thailand after an outbreak among students.

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general said: "We have evidence to suggest we are seeing the first pandemic of the 21st Century.” “Moving to pandemic phase six does not imply we will see increased in deaths or serious cases”. This is a formal statement about the geographical spread of the disease which is no longer stoppable. WHO officials confirm that in all probability the pandemic will last one or two years.  And the WHO does not recommend closure of borders or any restrictions on the movement of people, goods or services.

Swine Flu seems to target the young, under 25 years of age, and its symptoms are those of a simple cold and fever.  The WHO is asking anyone who presents these symptoms to have a check up.  Means to reduce infection are the usual precautions: Good personal hygiene, such as washing hands, avoid crowded public places, or close contact with someone who has the virus.

Experts have warned that poorer nations, especially those in the southern hemisphere now heading into their winter season, face the greatest risk from the flu pandemic.  Moreover they cannot afford to stockpile vaccines.   WHO will now ask drug makers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine, which is not expected before September.  The declaration will also prompt governments to spend more to contain the virus. Worst hit by Swine Flu is the United States (13,217 cases), Mexico (5,717), Canada (2,446), Australia (1,224), Chile (1694) and the United Kingdom (666).

For the WHO, one of the worst case scenarios for the future is a possible mutation of the A/H1N1 virus into a more virulent form that will hit the northern hemisphere next winter, following the same patter of the Spanish Flu of 1926 that killed upwards of 50 million people.

The last global pandemic was the Hong Kong Flu of 1968, which left 1 million people dead.  Ordinary flu usually causes the deaths of between 250 to 500 thousand people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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