With 74 countries reporting 27,737 cases of infection, including 141 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declared influenza A (H1N1), also known as swine flu, a pandemic. Why you should care?
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.
Seasonal flu – the regular fever you and I get at a couple of times a year — kills about 2,50,000 to 5,00,000 people every year.
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.
“Phase-6 doesn’t imply severity, it concerns geographic spread. Pandemic means global, but it doesn’t have any connotation of severity or mildness,” said Gregory Hartl, the WHO spokesperson in Geneva.
“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,” said Vineet Chawdhry, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Health, in-charge of swine flu containment.
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.
Since the WHO insists exit screenings will serve no purpose, the Cabinet Secretary decided after a review meeting that all of India’s visa-issuing agencies will now hand over an advisory to people seeking visas to India asking them not to travel if they have any of the symptoms of swine flu,” said Chawdhry.
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.