WHO declares H1N1 a flu pandemic

June 11, 2009 6:14:20 PM PDT
The H1N1 virus is now officially a pandemic. The World Health Organization made the formal announcement on Thursday. It's the first pandemic declared in more than four decades.

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This pandemic designation does not come as a surprise. In fact, state and local health officials say they have been treating H1N1 virus as a pandemic since the initial outbreak in Mexico.

The general public is reacting with confusion to the pandemic announcement.

"You would think that with an announcement like that borders would be closed and everyone would be wearing masks," says Campbell resident Michel Meredith.

It's the global spread of the H1N1 virus and not the flu severity that promoted the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic for the first time in 41 years.

"No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely," said World Health Organization Director General Dr. Margaret Chan, MD.

The virus has spread to 74 countries with 28,774 confirmed cases and 144 deaths, including another one in Alameda County reported on Thursday. What's unique about this flu virus is that it is striking a younger, healthier population.

"The average age across the board has been about 17 years of age so these are younger people," says Marty Fenstersheib, MD, the Santa Clara County health officer.

State health officials say California is taking the unusual step of monitoring severe flu cases during the summer months. Summer school administrators are also on notice to track absenteeism and other possible flu indicators.

"The Department of Homeland Security at the federal level sent out a message to schools today advising schools they need to be prepared," says Bonnie Sorensen, MD, from the California Department of Public Health.

There are concerns more school closures could be a possibility this fall, especially if the virus mutates. The southern hemisphere is just now entering its traditional winter flu season and that could give some early indication of whether the strain severity gets worse.

"If it gets more severe then we'll see people that are sicker, that more people are in the hospital, perhaps more people dying from it," says Fenstersheib.

Now the U.S. government is working with five manufactures to make sure there is an effective vaccine by this fall.

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