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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Worst health crisis in 90 years?

New Delhi: This could be the worst health crisis facing the world in 90 years. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday raising its alert level to phase five for swine flu—just one step short of seeing a full-blown pandemic affecting at least two regions of the globe—health experts seem to be fearing a situation similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu. H1N1 (the swine flu virus) is the closest so far to the Spanish Flu virus.
    While experts rule out anything akin to the fearsome toll of 1918—at least 50 million people were killed by the Spanish Flu—given the rapid advance of medical science and the quick spread of information and awareness in today's world, WHO was taking no chances. Well aware that the disease is able to spread easily between
humans, it has stepped up the alert level. The Avian Flu (also known as bird flu) had an alert which was two notches lower, which means the danger this time is much higher.
    Worldwide, at least 13 countries have
confirmed cases of swine flu. Switzerland became the fifth European country to report a case of the disease in a 19-year-old student, while the Netherlands soon after became the sixth, reporting the virus in a three-year-old who had recently returned from Mexico.
    In Britain, Germany, France and Austria, the authorities have begun a campaign urging people to sneeze into tissues and to wash their hands after that. The campaign is slugged, 'Catch it, bin it, kill it'. The disease has also spread to Costa Rica and Peru.
    Raising the alert—the second in three days—WHO's director general Dr Margaret Chan asked all countries to activate their pandemic flu plans and called on them to be on high alert for an H1N1 swine flu outbreak.

NRI's nasal samples sent for swine flu test
Although the Union health ministry tried to downplay the swine flu threat, the throat swab and nasal samples of a 27-year-old NRI who arrived in Hyderabad from Texas a couple of days ago and has shown symptoms of swine flu have been sent to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in Delhi for tests. The report is expected in 36 hours. P 12 
'Early treatment of influenza must'
New Delhi: Issuing a swine flu warning, WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan has asked countries across the globe to be on guard. Calling Influenza viruses notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behavior, Dr Chan said, "Influenza pandemics must be dealt with seriously and precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world. New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood. WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them.''
    According to Dr Chan, at this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.
    "This change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to governments, to ministries of health and to the pharmaceutical industry that actions should now be undertaken with increased urgency and at
an accelerated pace,'' Dr Chan added.
    Preparedness measures undertaken because of the threat from H5N1 avian influenza were an investment, and we are now benefiting from it, said experts. According to WHO, the biggest question right now is how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start? Dr Chan says it is possible that the full clinical spectrum of this disease goes from mild illness to severe disease. "From past experience, we know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more severe disease, with higher mortality, in developing countries. This is an opportunity for global solidarity. It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," Dr Chan said.
    On phase 5 alert, WHO's assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda said, "Phase 5 indicates the spread of the virus among communities, normal people who haven't visited Mexico or come in contact with travellers''. TNN

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