WHO: Premature to Call Swine Flu Pandemic Over

A senior WHO official says the virus is expected to continue circulating for some time to come and countries should continue to take steps to protect their populations.

The World Health Organization says it is too soon to call the H1N1, Swine Flu pandemic over.  A senior WHO official says the virus is expected to continue circulating for some time to come and countries should continue to take steps to protect their populations. 

The H1N1 influenza pandemic has been around for about eight months, but in some places the spread of the virus is not as widespread as some had feared.  The World Health Organization says this is not long enough to be able to consider the pandemic over.

WHO notes the pandemic is a global event, not a regional one.  Since the virus is spreading around the world, it says it is normal for the illness to be more severe in some places than in others.

For example, WHO finds infections are continuing at quite high levels in some parts of Europe, such as France and Switzerland, in parts of Central Asia and in some large countries, such as Russia.

But, Special Adviser to the WHO Director-General on Pandemic Influenza, Keiji Fukuda, says the pandemic seems to have peaked and is on the way down in some parts of the world, including North America and some European countries.

"But, one of the points about this is that peaking has occurred extraordinarily early for influenza and we still have several months of winter to go," said Fukuda. "One of the big questions, which is still before us is whether we expect to see yet another wave of activity occur, perhaps in the late winter or in the early spring months.  And the answer right now is that we simply are not able to answer this question right now." 

Fukuda says WHO is continuing to monitor the situation, but is unable to predict whether or not there will be an upsurge of activity in early 2010.

Because of the uncertainties, he says WHO believes it is vital to provide support to vulnerable countries.  And, the best way to help them, he says, is by providing them with vaccines against the disease.

As of now, he says six manufacturers and 12 countries have pledged about 180 million doses of the vaccine to WHO.  They will be distributed to approximately 95 countries.

He says WHO had hoped to ship off the first lot of vaccines by November or December.  But, this has not been possible because the operation is extremely complicated. 

"I am still hoping to get the vaccines out soon.  The first doses have not gone out yet.  But, we are, I think very close to that," he said. 

Fukuda adds it is not too late to get the vaccines out to the countries.

"The pandemic virus is now a virus, which is really spread around the world.  And, it is quite likely this is an infection we will continue to see circulating for a number of years.  We also, as I mentioned, do not know what we are going to see in the springtime.  So, for these reasons and for the high likelihood that many people are going to run into this virus in the future, I think that it remains quite prudent  to push ahead with the vaccinations," he said. 

Fukuda adds that Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Mongolia will be the first three countries to receive the vaccines.  He says they will be followed by a group of 35 countries.  After that, the vaccines will be distributed to the remaining vulnerable countries on WHO's list.


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