H1N1 flu pandemic officially over, WHO says
The H1N1 pandemic has officially ended, the World Health Organization declared Tuesday.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan made the declaration based on the findings of the WHO's Emergency Committee--a group of experts from around the world that has been advising the Geneva-based arm of the United Nations.
"The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course," Chan said in a statement.
The declaration was based on reports of how much disease the virus was causing around the world, Chan said. While the virus is still circulating, the picture looks much more like a typical year of the flu. Localized outbreaks are occurring in some places, such as New Zealand. But out-of-season outbreaks are no longer being reported in either the northern or southern hemispheres.
The WHO declared the pandemic in June 2009, marking the first official flu pandemic since 1968. During the pandemic, H1N1 pretty much took over, pushing out any other viruses. That is no longer the case. "Many countries are reporting a mix of influenza viruses," Chan said.
Chan cautioned that influenza remains very unpredictable. So she urged health authorities around the world to remain vigilant to a resurgence of the virus and issued a series of recommendations, including making sure this year's regular flu vaccine protect people against H1N1. The virus continues to pose an unsual threat to younger people, Chan said.
Chan acknowledged that the pandemic turned out to be far less severe than officials had originally feared.
"This time around we have been aided by pure good luck," she said. "The virus did not mutate during the pandemic to a more lethal form. Wisespread resistance to oseltamivir [Tamiflu] did not develop. The vaccine proved to be a good match with circulating viruses and showed an excellent safety profile," she said. "Thanks to extensive preparedness and support form the international community, even countries with very weak health systems were able to detect cases and report them promptly."
The WHO has been criticized for exaggerating the risk posed by the pandemic, prompting countries to spend billions of dollars on vaccine and other defenses. The pandemic killed an estimated 18,000 people worldwide, the WHO said. That's far less than a typical flu season. In response, the WHO has launched several investigations, including one by an independent group of experts.
For more about the WHO's declaration go here.
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