WHO puts world on swine flu alert

With 74 countries reporting 27,737 cases of infection, including 141 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 June 2009 declared influenza A (H1N1), also known as swine flu, a pandemic.

It is the first flu pandemic since the Hong Kong flu pandemic in 1968, which killed one million people. The global health body has moved swine flu to the final phase-6 stage on its six-point pandemic scale. In comparison, the bird flu classification is still phase-3, as infections in humans are rare.

India has 15 confirmed influenza A (H1N1) cases, with infections confirmed in seven people in Hyderabad, five in Delhi, two in Coimbatore and one in Goa. Of these, two are localised infections, where passengers from the US infected family members in India.

According to Vineet Chawdhry, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Health, in-charge of swine flu containment, WHO has clarified not once but many times that its pandemic scale is a reflection of the geographical spread of the infection, not its severity. There will be no change in strategy on India’s part as apart from the two isolated local infections, there have been no clusters of local infection here. We will continue to screen, isolate and treat suspected cases.

Admitting that the severity may vary from country to country, the WHO clarified that a single assessment may not be relevant to all countries, but it would serve as a broad indicator for travel.

“India has been asking for exit screening of passengers from the infected country, as apart from two local infections, all thirteen infections have been imported from the US. The WHO has still not recommended restrictions on eating pork, but has advised people to avoid non-essential travel to countries with localised infection.

Apart from Mexico and the US, countries with increasing new infections are Canada, Australia, Britain, Chile and Japan.

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