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WHO Says H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic Not Over

Lisa Schlein | Geneva 18 January 2010

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan say the H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic is not as serious as anticipated. But, she says this is no time to relax, as the Pandemic is not over. Chan spoke at the opening of WHO's weeklong Executive Board meeting in Geneva.

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan says when H1N1 appeared her agency was expecting an event similar the 1918 pandemic, which killed 50 million people.

Instead she says what actually happened is probably closer to the much milder 1957 or 1968 pandemics.

"For me, the best health news of the previous decade is the fact that the long overdue influenza pandemic has been so moderate in its impact ... The virus did not mutate to a more virulent form. ... The vaccine proved safe and a close match with circulating virus. Things could have gone wrong in any of these areas," she said.

Despite the good news, the World Health Organization, has found itself on the defensive. A number of governments have accused the health agency of exaggerating the severity of Swine Flu and of being in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.

But Dr. Chan says it is always better to err on the side of caution when dealing with public health issues.

She says it is better to have a moderate pandemic with a large supply of vaccines, rather than a severe pandemic with inadequate supplies of vaccine.

"In some countries in the northern hemisphere with good surveillance systems, the pandemic appears to be easing. The worst may be over," she said. "But, it would be unwise for anybody to reach firm conclusions before April, when the normal influenza season usually ends. There is still quite a lot of winter left," she added.

Chan notes no one can predict what will happen later in the year when the southern hemisphere enters its influenza season and the virus spreads more rapidly throughout the population.

She says countries must remain vigilant and people who have decided not to get vaccinated against H1N1 should rethink this decision. She says H1N1 may be moderate, but it still kills.

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