The World Health Organization has declared an end to the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. In making the announcement, WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan said the new H1N1 virus has largely run its course and the world is now moving into the post-pandemic period.
Dr. Chan says the world is no longer in phase 6 of the influenza pandemic alert. She says the past year has been long and full of hard work.
She says the hard work against the virus will continue, but she feels both tired and happy to have arrived at the end game.
"We also are mindful of the fact that we need to continue to maintain our vigilance and not be complacent," Dr. Chan said. "So, there is going to be a lot of work to be done in the future. One important things is to review lessons learned and how the world collectively can be better prepared for the next pandemic."
Dr. Chan says the world has entered the post-pandemic period. But, this, she says does not mean the H1N1 virus has gone away. Experience with past pandemics, she says, show the H1N1 virus is likely to take on the behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come.
She says pandemics, like the viruses that cause them, are unpredictable. Therefore, she says continued vigilance is extremely important.
"Based on available evidence and experience from past pandemics, it is likely that the virus will continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups, at least in the immediate post-pandemic period," Dr. Chan said. "Groups identified during the pandemic as at higher risk of severe or fatal illness will probably remain at heightened risk, though hopefully the number of such cases will diminish."
Still some outbreaks
The World Health Organization reports localized outbreaks of different magnitude are still occurring. It notes H1N1 transmission is still going on in places such as New Zealand and India.
WHO praises both these countries for their quick detection and treatment of the disease and says they provide a model of how other countries should behave.
Dr. Chan says the world got lucky in that the H1N1 influenza pandemic turned out to be mild and did not mutate to a more lethal form. She says it also is fortunate that widespread resistance to the vaccine did not develop, but proved to be safe and effective.
She says WHO recommends the vaccine continue to be given to high risk people to immunize them against H1N1.
The World Health Organization reports the current number of laboratory confirmed deaths from H1N1 stands at about 18,500 since the outbreak began in 2009. It says the true number of deaths is probably much higher, but will not be known for several years.