Friday, February 26, 2010

WHO Sticks With Current Pandemic Phase

The WHO emergency committee of experts, set up under International Health Regulations (IHR), met in a 2-hour teleconference on Tuesday, and discussed whether to move from pandemic alert phase 6 (pandemic phase) to a post-peak phase.

The committee has recommended holding at the current pandemic alert level based on evidence of new community spread of the virus in West Africa, and the possibility of a second wave of illnesses as the Southern Hemisphere enters its winter months.

The committee expressed that it is clear that the pandemic situation varies in different parts of the world. Though flu activity continues to taper off in many Northern Hemisphere countries, the virus is still active in areas such as Eastern Europe and central Asia, and there are increased reports of new pandemic activity in the West African countries Senegal and Mauritania.

Though many countries in the Northern Hemisphere have had two pandemic flu waves, many Southern Hemisphere nations have had only one, and those countries are just entering their winter months, when increased influenza activity is anticipated.

Members of the emergency committee were concerned that transitioning to a post-peak pandemic phase could undermine control actions in some countries, he said, adding that the group said it would revisit the issue over the next several weeks when more epidemiological evidence is available.

Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, asked the committee to review three specific IHR recommendations, according to a statement today from the WHO. The committee favored continuing the recommendations, but urged an update to the second recommendation, replacing "intensify" with "maintain" regarding surveillance. The recommendations thus now read:

  • Countries should not close borders or restrict international traffic and trade.
  • Maintain surveillance of unusual flu-like illness and severe pneumonia.
  • If ill, it is prudent to delay travel.

The WHO continues to endorse vaccination, especially because the pandemic H1N1 virus continues to dominate seasonal strains. The vaccine has excellent safety and efficacy profiles, and the WHO estimates that about 300 million people across the globe have been immunized.

Source: CIDRAP

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