WHO set to declare level 6 swine flu pandemic

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Level 6 may be coming – newest update on this topic from the RSOE:

WHO set to declare level 6 swine flu pandemic — first time since 1968
2009.06.11 15:13:00 Worldwide

As the death toll climbs, the World Health Organization is set to declare a swine flu pandemic, a move that could prompt fast-track production of preventive vaccines. The declaration of a global epidemic was expected Thursday as WHO officials huddled in an emergency session in Geneva in the wake of 141 swine flu deaths worldwide, including 12 in New York City. “It is likely in light of sustained community transmission in countries outside of North America – most notably in Australia – that level 6 will be declared,” Scotland’s Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers. If WHO moves from level 5 to level 6 on its pandemic alert scale, it would be the first flu pandemic declared since the Hong Kong flu killed an estimated 1 million people in 1968.

On Wednesday, WHO reported 27,737 cases worldwide, most of them mild and requiring no treatment. WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan says she believes a pandemic is under way, but was seeking proof that the H1N1 strain is spreading rapidly from person to person outside the Americas before declaring a global epidemic. The world is better prepared than ever for a pandemic, with stockpiles of antiviral drugs like Roche’s Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza, experts said. Sanofi Pasteur and other major pharmaceutical companies have been working on a swine flu vaccine since last month, when WHO gave them a “seed stock” of the virus created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It could take up to six months before large amounts of a swine flu vaccine are available, GlaxoSmithKline spokesman Stephen Rea said. On Wednesday, city officials reported three more swine flu deaths, bringing the death toll to 12. The City Council scheduled an oversight hearing for Thursday on the H1N1 virus. The Health Department estimated that more than 500,000 city residents may have been sickened by the virus. The highest incidence is in Queens, where the outbreak began in April. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year. Without vaccines, the H1N1 flu strain could return to the northern hemisphere in a far more virulent form in winter, cause widespread sickness and death, mass work absences, and major disruption to trade, some experts fear. The World Bank estimated last year that a serious pandemic could cost $3 trillion and cut global gross domestic product by nearly 5%.

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