Thursday, April 30, 2009

WHO General-Director increases influenza pandemic alert to Phase 5

So what does that mean exactly? The phases are mapped out by the World Health Organization and sketch out the face of a possible influenza pandemic. Currently, we're still at pandemic-alert.

Interpandemic period

Phase 1 : No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. An influenza virus subtype that has caused human infection may be present in animals. If present in animals, the risk of human infection or disease is considered to be low.

Phase 2: No new influenza virus subtypes have been detected in humans. However, a circulating animal influenza virus subtype poses a substantial risk of human disease.
Pandemic alert period

Phase 3: Human infection(s) with a new subtype but no human-to-human spread, or at most rare instances of spread to a close contact.

Phase 4: Small cluster(s) with limited human-to-human transmission but spread is highly localized, suggesting that the virus is not well adapted to humans.

Phase 5: Larger cluster(s) but human-to-human spread still localized, suggesting that the virus is becoming increasingly better adapted to humans but may not yet be fully transmissible (substantial pandemic risk).

Pandemic period

Phase 6: Pandemic: increased and sustained transmission in general population.
Notes: The distinction between phases 1 and 2 is based on the risk of human infection or disease resulting from circulating strains in animals. The distinction is based on various factors and their relative importance according to current scientific knowledge. Factors may include pathogenicity in animals and humans, occurrence in domesticated animals and livestock or only in wildlife, whether the virus is enzootic or epizootic, geographically localized or widespread, and other scientific parameters.

If you have a lot of time on your hands, or are interested -- check out the WHO global Influenza preparedness plan here. It might be interesting to see how well the US and the world as a whole is following the plans set prior to the reality of an actual pandemic. There are so many different variables that could never be accounted for when a group of people are writing a plan. And as we all know -- rarely do things happen according to a plan. Unfortunately when this whole pandemic is over, the US and the world's actions will be scrutinized and judged. It's important to keep in mind that the folks at the ground level are working as hard as ever to keep the public safe.

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