World Health Organization Ups Pandemic Alert Level for Swine Flu

By Eliza Strickland | April 30, 2009 9:27 am

swine flu optimismIn response to the continued spread of swine flu, which is now going by the more technical name H1N1, the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert level from 4 to 5 yesterday, indicating that the virus is being spread between humans in at least two countries and that a global epidemic is imminent. Health officials stressed that now is the time for all countries to activate their pandemic preparedness plans, and to focus on mitigation strategies–namely, increased surveillance, early treatment for patients, and infection control in all health facilities.

“Containment is no longer a feasible option,” Dr. Keiji Fukuda, deputy director general of the World Health Organization, announced Monday night in Geneva after a meeting of the agency’s emergency committee on the spreading swine flu virus. “The world should focus on mitigation. We recommend not closing borders or restricting travel” [The New York Times]. In more recent comments addressing the U.S. decision not to close the border with Mexico, President Obama argued that such a move would be “akin to closing the barn door after the horse is out.”

But although many health officials say that the further spread of the virus is inevitable, it’s not at all clear how much threat it poses. So far there seem to have been around 159 fatalities among perhaps 2000 cases in Mexico, although only a small number of these have been confirmed in the laboratory as influenza infections. Although this suggests a scary fatality rate of around 10%, there has so far been just one death outside of Mexico – of a 23-month-old Mexican child in Texas, who had recently been in Mexico. The “case fatality” of the virus is not yet known [New Scientist]. Epidemiologists say it’s quite likely that many more mild cases occurred in Mexico that were never reported, which could mean that the fatality rate is closer to one to two percent.

The Mexican government has shut down all non-essential government services for five days, and has urged citizens to stay home during that time to avoid infection. In the United States, 93 cases of H1N1 flu have been reported in 11 states, and some schools have been closed in eight states to avoid spreading the virus through schoolchildren. Meanwhile, officials reported a few more confirmed cases in Europe, with new cases in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

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Image: flickr / sarihuella

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Wendy Steepe

    I don’t understand why you don’t publish the names of those who have been confirmed as having the Swine Flu? If I had it, I would want everyone to know so that anyone who has been in contact with me could take extra precaution and try not to infect their loved ones.

  • wanda cook

    If you had the virus and recovered can you be reinfected?

  • The Mad LOLScientist, FCD

    @Wendy: It’s a matter of privacy. Don’t know where you live, but in the US it’s against the law to release your medical info unless you specifically authorize it to a specific person/organization. Unrestricted access can affect things like employment, insurance, etc. It’s a pain in the behind, but in my experience the benefits outweigh the risks.

    I certainly don’t want anyone I don’t know blabbing my medical info around! Much better to tell people directly (phone, email, etc. to avoid physical contact); that way you have control of who knows.

    @wanda: AFAIK, you have at least some immunity after you recover. Don’t know how long the immunity lasts, but you shouldn’t catch the same strain again during the same outbreak. Immunity to one strain doesn’t give you immunity to others though – for instance, if you’ve had swine flu (H1N1) you can still catch bird flu (H5N1). Beyond that, it gets complicated in a hurry, because immunity to one H1N1 strain doesn’t make you immune to another H1N1. That’s why they have to formulate new flu shots every year.

  • The Mad LOLScientist, FCD

    BTW, If you’re a Twitter user, follow @CDCemergency for the latest info.
    Non-Twitterers: go to

  • Nick

    H1N1 has been around since before the 1918 Pandemic (and even caused it) – we get it every year, just some strains happen to catch us more off-guard… and I’m guessing yearly flu vaccines weaken (y)our natural immunoresponsiveness to such things.

    However, it’s important to note that our planet is overpopulated, the most populace places are the hardest hit, and only sports around a 10% mortality rate.

    In other words, there’s a 90% chance that any given person will be fine, and that probably goes up the further away from giant population centers you are.

    And as John Stewart said: Swine flu – still the least likely thing to kill you in Mexico.

  • long island girl

    swine flu is spreading very fast. we must take note of all the possible prevention and get a lot of information about swine flu, symptoms, prevention and treatment. stay at home as much as possible.

  • BONuts

    “akin to closing the barn door after the horse is out”. HUH???
    This clown is an ignoramus!! What about the other “horses” that will
    be swarming across the border?
    The death in texas was an illegal alien. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!

  • YouRang

    One thing I haven’t seen: I hope that if one of the worse case scenarios come to pass that tamiflu and tamiviren will only be available to people who have no potential to infect other people. IOW NO TAMIFLU FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO GO BACK TO WORK!!! (or school or the reunion concert of Spinal Tap etc, or etc) and INFECT OTHER people. If that means hospitalization, or dispensation by home health nurses, so be it.
    AND relative to the one death being an illegal alien. OF COURSE it’s an illegal alien who doesn’t want to be deported so he doesn’t go to get treatment. He’s just as likely to have gotten it here and died from LACK of treatment. Closing the border will only mean that there are even more infectious persons not getting treatment and spreading the disease. The prez needs to declare temporary amnesty for all illegals with flu-like symptoms. Hell why just flu-like? Temporary amnesty for all illegals needing a doctor. I mean: It’s amazing we haven’t had a TB epidemic resistant to antibiotics. And the tone of BONuts post seems to be: they’ll be swarming to get away from the flu. Ri-i-i-ight, they’ll be willing to die in the desert heat when the heat is going to exacerbate any latent illness; I don’t think they’re that dumb. We don’t have 100 million illegals because they know the crossing is already hazardous. And what? Husbands are going to risk the trip and leave their family to die of flu? Bullshit.

  • mindreader

    Citizens and the government should help each other in dealing this situation. Governement alone can’t handle this. It needs the cooperation of the governed people. The alert is no joke! This virus is lethal! At this moment where in no cure or vaccine has been confirmed to be 100% effective, people should be cautious of their own health and life as well as their families. We should set aside the indifferences and work hand and hand to combat the disease. Our future is at stake especially the future of young generations! It’s actually good that this blog is shared and posted so that every one will have an idea on what is happening not only to their local town but as well as to other neighboring place or country.

  • Margit Ehrenberg

    Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thanks Nonetheless I’m experiencing problem with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting equivalent rss drawback? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx


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