WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, announced today that she has “decided to raise the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5.” And she further comments:
Let me remind you. New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood. Influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behaviour. WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them.
WHO will be tracking the pandemic at the epidemiological, clinical, and virological levels. All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.
At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.
I have reached out to companies manufacturing antiviral drugs to assess capacity and all options for ramping up production. I have also reached out to influenza vaccine manufacturers that can contribute to the production of a pandemic vaccine.
The biggest question, right now, is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start?
It is possible that the full clinical spectrum of this disease goes from mild illness to severe disease. We need to continue to monitor the evolution of the situation to get the specific information and data we need to answer this question.
From past experience, we also know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more severe disease, with higher mortality, in developing countries.
No matter what the situation is, the international community should treat this as a window of opportunity to ramp up preparedness and response.
Above all, this is an opportunity for global solidarity as we look for responses and solutions that benefit all countries, all of humanity. After all, it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.
As I have said, we do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.
—- end of her remarks —-
The latest WHO Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response release puts the total number of confirmed cases at 148, in 9 countries, with 8 deaths. Mexico has many more suspected cases but just 26 confirmed cases. The CDC Swine Influenza site, puts the total number of confirmed cases in the USA at 91, in 10 states, with 1 death.