PANDEMIC: Is It Soup Yet?


ASSOCIATED PRESS:  A World Health Organization spokesman says the agency may raise its pandemic level to its highest alert, signifying a swine flu pandemic. WHO uses a six-level scale to assess the world’s risk. Last Wednesday, the agency raised the level to 5. Level 6 means a global outbreak of swine flu is under way. WHO spokesman Dick Thompson says Monday the direction WHO will take “will be dictated by the virus.” In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Monday, WHO chief Margaret Chan implies the agency might raise the level to 6, but cautions that “Level 6 does not mean…we are coming near to the end of the world.” Without that explanation, Chan worries, raising to level 6 could cause “unnecessary panic.” MORE

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: The term pandemic refers to the extent of the spread of the disease and not its virulence.  The purpose of assigning phases to a pandemic is to communicate the need to launch programs to limit the spread of the virus using clearly defined terms.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies these six levels of a pandemic.
•    Phase 1: A virus is found in animals but not in humans.
•    Phase 2: Humans contract the disease from an animal.
•    Phase 3: There are small clusters of disease in humans, but no human-to-human transmission.
•    Phase 4: Human-to-human contact causes community-level outbreaks.
•    Phase 5: Spread of disease between humans is occurring in more than one country.
•    Phase 6: This is when a pandemic actually occurs. There are community-level outbreaks in several distant countries.

The H1N1 influenza is now at phase 5; however, most people who have contracted the H1N1 virus have had only a mild illness.  Because of this, experts anticipate that the virus will cause more discomfort and loss of productivity than death. MORE

[Illustration by SHAUN MACHIA]

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