Although the influenza A(H1N1) infection may not be making news headlines like it did several weeks ago, it is continuing to spread globally and the United Nations health agency is considering raising its pandemic alert level, a spokesperson for the body said today.
“Certainly two or three weeks ago the headlines were all about A(H1N1); now that’s not the case so much,” Gregory Hartl of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said in an interview with UN Radio.
“But the threat of A(H1N1) becoming a pandemic virus is even greater than it was two or three or four weeks ago,” he stated, adding that the agency is closely watching how the infection is developing outside of the Americas.
According to WHO, 66 countries have officially reported 19,273 cases of the new flu strain, including 117 deaths, as of today.
The agency’s pandemic alert level remains at Phase 5 – on a six-point warning scale – meaning that sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus on a community level is mostly restricted to a single geographic region, in this case North America.
Mr. Hartl said WHO is closely monitoring the situation. “We would say not for anyone to let down their guard because we might be living through a few weeks or months in the Northern Hemisphere of reduced influenza activity because it is the summer.
“I think everyone though would be well advised to be ready and aware of the fact that in the autumn in the Northern Hemisphere – in the autumn anywhere – his virus could reappear very strongly again.”
He added that it is possible to see an easier spread of the virus in the Southern Hemisphere, where winter is just beginning.
“We need to watch the behaviour of A(H1N1) very carefully as it encounters other influenza viruses circulating during the winter season in the Southern Hemisphere,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told the World Health Assembly in Geneva recently.
“The current winter season gives influenza viruses an opportunity to inter-mingle and possibly exchange their genetic material in unpredictable ways,” she noted.