Based on mounting evidence, the World Health Organization today declared that "the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met" and raised the pandemic alert level from Phase 5 to Phase 6. As WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan stated, "The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic."
Actually, it likely will end up being the 2009-2010 pandemic or the 2009-2011 pandemic, because historically that's how long pandemics last. Spreading across the globe in multiple waves usually. (Indeed, Dr. Chan today cautioned, "Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection.")
Dr. Chan's prepared statement to the press was pretty concise and paints the picture as well as the experts can see it for now. So, I'm reproducing her statement in full below.
However, if you don't want to read it all, I've summarized these highlights:
* This particular influenza A H1N1 strain is entirely new and spreads easily from one person to another.
* Nearly 30,000 cases have been confirmed in 74 countries. [Those are just laboratory-confirmed cases. Actual case count may be in the hundreds of thousands. -Chirp]
* "The virus writes the rules" and the situation "can change very quickly."
* At least initially, the pandemic is expected to be of moderate severity, although that can vary from place to place.
* Thusfar, the overwhelming majority of patients have mild symptoms.
* This H1N1 virus prefers young people. In major outbreaks, most cases have been under the age of 25. Most severe and fatal cases have been in ages 30 to 50. (This is unlike typical seasonal flu, where most fatalities are elderly.)
* Many cases have occurred in people with underlying chronic conditions. HOWEVER, "one third to half of the severe and fatal infections are occurring in previously healthy young and middle-aged people."
* Pregnant women are at increased risk of complications.
* We do not yet know how this virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world. Unlike the "moderate" severity in well-off countries, "it is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads" to less-developed countries.
* A characteristic of pandemics is their rapid spread to all parts of the world. "Countries should prepare to see cases, or the further spread of cases, in the near future. Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection."
* Vaccine manufacturers will soon finish production of vaccine for seasonal flu and will then have full capacity available to produce pandemic vaccine. [Caution: Don't overly rely on pharmaceutical solutions. The vaccine may not be ready to begin production for weeks/months. Even then, production is limited, given a world population of 6.7 billion. Initially, vaccine will be allocated to people in critical roles/conditions. There will be no vaccine for many, especially in developing countries. -Chirp]
* Until vaccine is available, use non-pharmaceutical interventions for some protection.
* WHO recommends no restrictions on travel and no border closures.
* "Influenza pandemics ... are remarkable events because of the almost universal susceptibility of the world's population to infection. We are all in this together, and we will all get through this, together."