WHO steps up pandemic alert of swine flu to 5

CNN-IBN
May 02, 2009 at 01:38pm IST

The big take-away, despite a global scare from swine flu or Influenza A (H1N1) as it is now called by the WHO, is that India has not reported a single case of the dreaded disease. There is no cause for alarm within the country but the disease is the cause of immense concern the world over. CNN's Jeanne Meserve joined in from Washington with the very latest.

CNN-IBN: Jeanne, as we all know, the WHO raising that pandemic alert to 5. That in a sense is seen worldwide as an indication to all countries to simply step up their preparedness, their plans etc.

Jeanne Meserve: That's absolutely right. That's why they did raise it. they wanted to put not just governments on notice but also pharmaceutical companies are telling them if its time to look at production, whether they can ramp it up or not. Here, within the United States officials it really is not going to change their approach. Already, they were planning for a full-fledged pandemic. They say that they are going to continue on that course. The change to Stage-5 is not going to have any impact here.

CNN-IBN: The strange part is that swine flu is affecting some of the individuals in the society's healthiest demographics. Many of the victims who've died in Mexico have been young and healthy. Is that a real concern now?

Jeanne Meserve: That's something that is being studied right now by the health officials. They have not got a fix on that yet. They say it is probably going to take a week or so to get a clear sense. What disturbed them about what was happening in Mexico was that this virus appeared to be having the harshest impact on people in the prime of life. Seasonal flu would have expected to hit those who were young, those who were old, those with compromised immune systems. Because it wasn't following that usual pattern, it was cause for concern. Here, in the United States we have got only one confirmed death, that was of one young child. One thing that the epidemiologists are looking at very carefully is the broad spectrum of how many people have picked up this infection, how many people have severe reaction and what actually their demographic is. In the 1918 pandemic also, it was people in the prime of life who were hit. The theory is that what happened was that these were the people with the most active immune system. When the virus hit them, their immune system went after it with such a vengeance, that it was their immune system that caused their death. That is what they are looking at, here. It is something of quite concern and something that they are studying very carefully.

CNN-IBN: Fair enough, Jeanne. Here in India we have not had any confirmed case of swine flu. But in the US, we are hearing voices that asking for closing borders or even restricting trade with countries that are the epicentre of the swine flu.

Jeanne Meserve: There is a great deal of debate, however about what sort of observation should be done at borders. There are some people who feel that the US is not doing enough or that it is engaged in what is called passive surveillance with border officials who are just looking for sgns of infections. There are some people who say, could you please use for instance, thermal imaging cameras that are being used in some countries of Asia for trying to detect people with fever. So all of that is a subject for debate. But when it comes to the matter of keeping the public calm, that is a big emphasis. Here in the United States, I want to tell you, officials are consulting on a daily basis to make sure that they are all in sync on the sort of message that they are putting out to the public. They are making themselves very available. There are a number of press briefings everyday. They want to make that people have all the information that they can have. They are trying to make sure that they are equipped with some practical steps that they can take on a personal level to protect themselves and their hope is that by pushing out that sort of information. they will keep the public calm, they will clamp down any tendencies towards panic.

Next Page: Flu Dos and Don'ts

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FLU DO'S & DON'TS

  • Avoid travel to affected areas
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Watch out for flu-like symptoms
  • Consult a doctor
  • Cover your face while coughing and sneezing
  • Stay away from infected people as the virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes around other people
  • The virus also spreads when you touch something infected and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes
  • The virus doesn't spread by eating well-cooked pork products
  • Wash hands after handling pork

There is no vaccine yet against the new strain of H1N1 influenza that's sweeping the world but an anti-viral treatment has proved effective in killing this new strain of the virus.

Anti-viral medicines oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are effective in treating new swine flu strain. They prevent duplication of flu virus within the human body. The drugs contain infection and reduce the severity of symptoms. They must be taken within 48 hours of onset of symptoms but doctors don't advise blanket usage across the board, because that could raise the chances of this new virus becoming resistant.

Right now, it's only prescribed for those who are infected or in close proximity to the infected.

"In case there is need we are fully prepared at a short notice with medicines. We have put a mechanism in place to track every passengers travelling in and out of India. Within a period of four to six weeks the manufacturers will be able to provide medicines. By tomorrow morning every state will be given the steps required for preparedness to handle Swine flu," said Joint Secretary of Health, Vineet Choudhry.

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