Where: Geneva, Switzerland
June 12, 2009 : The World Health Organisation (WHO), one of the United Nations organisations, officially declared a worldwide swine flu pandemic* after an emergency meeting on June 11, 2009. The flu, which has spread all over the world, is a new strain of the influenza A virus subtype H1N1. The virus was identified in April 2009, and is commonly referred to as swine flu. It infects human beings and can be transmitted either by coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the nose or mouth. The symptoms include fever, bodyache and stiffness in the joints. In extreme cases, the flu can kill. By May 24, 2009, nearly 90 per cent of the deaths reported had taken place in Mexico.
The WHO issued a Level 6 pandemic alert, its highest level. Director Margaret Chan said, “Based on past experience, this pandemic will be with us for some months, if not years, to come.” At present, the WHO’s official figures say that there are 30,000 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, and about 141 deaths have resulted from the disease.
As the virus spreads to areas with limited resources and poor health care, it is likely to infect larger numbers. The virus could mutate later in the year and become more virulent. This means any vaccine which is developed to protect people from an earlier strain of the virus could have no effect later. At present, there is no vaccine available. Drugs are available, and the flu can be cured. However, with the onset of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, the virus is expected to spread even further worldwide.
*‘Pandemic’ is the word used for an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads across populations in a large region like a continent, or even worldwide. The United States experienced an influenza pandemic in the year 1918. It killed 600,000 people there.