European nations activate flu pandemic response plans

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Governments across Europe last night triggered national pandemic response plans in the wake of the World Health Organisation’s decision to raise the flu pandemic alert level to phase six. This marks the first full-scale global pandemic in 41 years, though the WHO stressed that most of those infected to date have made a swift recovery.

The Czech Presidency and EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou issued a joint statement yesterday (11 June) saying national pandemic flu response plans have been activated across Europe. 

The issue was addressed by EU health ministers on Monday, when it was agreed that discussions will be held on a concerted response to the threat via the Health Security Committee. 

The WHO believes H1N1 influenza will continue to spread, but the severity of the virus is lower than in previous pandemics. The organisation is not recommending border closures or restrictions on travel.

Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said the criteria for the WHO’s highest level of alert had been met, and warned that all countries should expect a new wave of cases, even in countries where the outbreak appears to have peaked. 

“Globally, we have good reason to believe that this pandemic, at least in its early days, will be of moderate severity. Countries should prepare to see cases, or the further spread of cases, in the near future. Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection,” she said. 

To date, nearly 30,000 cases have been reported in 74 countries, with around 140 deaths recorded. The WHO said it does not anticipate a spike in fatalities, despite the expectation that the virus will continue to spread across the globe. 

The overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment, according to the WHO. 

However, this new virus differs from seasonal influenza in that most of the severe and fatal cases occur in previously healthy adults aged between 30 and 50. “This pattern is significantly different from that seen during epidemics of seasonal influenza, when most deaths occur in frail elderly people,” Dr Chan said. 

“Influenza pandemics, whether moderate or severe, are remarkable events because of the almost universal susceptibility of the world’s population to infection,” she added. 

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