World must prepare for inevitable next flu pandemic, WHO says

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured on the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – The world will inevitably face another pandemic of flu and needs to prepare for the potential devastation that could cause, and not underestimate the risks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Outlining a global plan to fight the viral disease and get ahead of a potential global outbreak, the WHO said the next influenza pandemic “is a matter of when not if”.

“The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said in a statement. “We must be vigilant and prepared; the cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention.”

The world’s last flu pandemic was caused by the H1N1 virus, which spread around the world in 2009 and 2010. Studies of that pandemic found that at least one in five people worldwide were infected in the first year, and the death rate was 0.02 percent.

Global health experts and the WHO warn there is a risk that a more deadly flu virus will one day jump from animals to people, mutate and infect many hundreds of thousands of people.

Flu viruses are multiple and ever-changing, and they infect around a billion people every year around the world in seasonal outbreaks. Of those infections, around 3 to 5 million are severe cases, leading to between 290,000 and 650,000 seasonal flu-related respiratory deaths.

Vaccines can help prevent some cases, and the WHO recommends annual vaccination – especially for people working in health care and for vulnerable people such as the old, the very young and people with underlying illness.

The WHO plan – which it described as its most comprehensive to date – includes measures to try to protect populations as much as possible from annual outbreaks of seasonal flu, as well as prepare for a pandemic.

Its two main goals, the WHO said, are to improve worldwide capacities for surveillance and response – by urging all governments to develop a national flu plan, and to develop better tools to prevent, detect, control and treat flu, such as more effective vaccines and antiviral drugs.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Gareth Jones)

Mexico sees spike in H1N1 swine flu cases, 68 people dead

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has seen a sharp jump in cases of the virus H1N1, popularly known as swine flu, killing 68 people so far this flu season, according to health ministry data.

The overall number of flu cases and deaths has also risen, but the H1N1 statistics are striking. The Mexican government has detected 945 cases of H1N1 this season, compared with just four cases and no deaths last season.

But the Mexican government emphasized schools should not shutter their doors due to the flu.

“We are not facing an epidemic that would justify closing schools,” Education Minister Aurelio Nuno said at a news conference this week.

While swine flu cases comprise only one-third of all flu infections this season, the virus has proven particularly deadly, with 69 percent of all flu deaths attributed to H1N1.

An increase in H1N1 cases has also been seen in the United States and Canada, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In 2009, the WHO declared H1N1 a pandemic after the virus started in Mexico and spread around the globe.

Recent media reports have cited shortages of flu medication and 35 percent of pharmacies across the country do not currently have Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu, a popular treatment, according to the national pharmacies’ association (Anafarmex).

Anafarmex said the government has sent thousands of Tamiflu units to pharmacies to boost supply.

Mexico’s flu season usually lasts from October to March.

(Reporting by Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Indian City Bans Public Gatherings Due To Swine Flu

A city in western India has banned public gatherings after swine flu has killed almost 1,000 people in the last 11 weeks.

Officials in Ahmedabad have banned gatherings of more than 5 people.  The city, the capital of Gujarat state, is going to allow funerals and weddings but all participants and attendees must wear protective masks throughout the gathering.

The law used is usually to stop rioting or social disorder.

Gujarat state has the second highest number of deaths in the country from the H1N1 virus.  The ban went into place after the assembly speaker and the state health minister both were found to have the virus.

Doctors say the death toll is likely climbing because people are delaying going to hospitals believing it’s just a regular cold and not swine flu.

Federal Health Minister J.P. Nadda said the country has enough medicine to treat cases and the public should not panic.

Swine Flu Makes Dramatic Return

The H1N1 virus, which killed over 14,000 people in a 2009 global pandemic, has returned with a vengeance in the 2013-14 flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control says that for the first time since that 2009 outbreak, H1N1 has been killing victims at an epidemic level.

The CDC says that the death toll is only a fraction of the 2009 outbreak but that levels are significantly higher than previous years.  With six weeks to go in the flu season, some states have seen more than a nine-fold increase in deaths.   California has 243 deaths this year compared to 26 at this time last year.

Some California hospitals have been so overrun with flu patients that they have set up triage units in their parking lots to keep infected patients away from potentially immunosuppressed patients in the main hospital building.

Many Californians rushed to get flu shots after a woman who worked for Sacramento’s ABC TV affiliate died from H1N1 within four days of feeling ill.

The CDC also says that surveillance reports in Virginia and Maryland show a wide outbreak of H1N1 but they along with the District of Columbia do not record deaths from the flu.

Duke University Medical Center reported a disturbing trend in that most hospitalized flu patients were younger, an average age of 28.5, and had more significant complications than in previous H1N1 outbreaks.

Flu Growing Among Younger People

The Centers for Disease Control is noticing a disturbing trend in the current flu season.

The CDC says that significantly more adults between 18 and 64 have been hospitalized because of the flu than in previous years.  According to their weekly survey of the flu, more than 61.5 percent of hospitalized patients were between the 18 to 64 age group, an 80 percent increase from last year.

Almost 2,500 specimens sent to the CDC for testing that showed positive for the flu. Of that group, almost 96% tested positive for the H1N1 swine flu.

The alarm from the CDC is echoing among medical providers who are seeing deaths among previously healthy young adults. Last week a 29-year-old mother of three died just a few days after exhibiting flu symptoms.  A 41-year-old man also died from the flu.

The CDC says the country has not yet reached epidemic level but the number of states showing widespread influenza rose from 25 to 35 last week.

Seasonal Flu Outbreak Now Widespread

The Centers for Disease Control is reporting that flu is now widespread in over half the United States.

The CDC says that a majority of the cases is the H1N1 virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009.

The flu peaks in the United States between October and March. The CDC said that the spread this year is quick with at least 25 states having confirmed cases.

The CDC says at least six children in the United States have died from H1N1 and cannot say how many adults may have died from it as they do not track adult deaths from the flu. Texas has been particularly hard hit with 25 deaths this flu season.

Texas officials have told health care providers in the state to begin anti-viral treatments even if rapid flu tests come back negative and a patient is showing signs of the flu.

H1N1 Swine Flu Found In Chicago; Five Dead in Texas

The deadly H1N1 swine flu virus has been confirmed in the Chicago area.

A microbiologist told CBS Chicago that in the last week they’ve found 21 patients with Influenza A and all but one of those cases was H1N1.

“We don’t know why it’s emerging,” Dr. Paul Schreckenberger said.

The outbreak in Chicago is troubling because five people have been confirmed dead in Texas from an outbreak of H1N1.

All five people have been confirmed to have died from H1N1. The Centers for Disease Control says that the flu shot for this year can help protect against H1N1 but less than half of American adults get a flu shot.

The CDC also says that 80 percent of the flu infections in Texas are H1N1.

Experts Say H1N1 Pandemic Death Toll Actually Ten Times Higher

A new report on deaths linked to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic shows the total number of deaths to be more than ten times higher than reported by the World Health Organization.

The study also discovered that respiratory deaths in the Americas can be 20 times higher than the death rates in Europe.

Examining only deaths from pneumonia that could have been connected to the flu, the study showed Mexico, Argentina and Brazil had the highest death rates from the pandemic. The toll was significantly lower in New Zealand, Australia and in most of Europe.

“[The report] confirms that the H1N1 virus killed many more people globally than originally believed,” study author Lone Simonsen of George Washington University said. “We also found that the mortality burden of this pandemic fell most heavily on younger people and those living in certain parts of the Americas.”

The World Health Organization said in 2010 the death toll from H1N1 was around 18,500 but noted their total was limited to laboratory confirmed testing.

Swine Flu Outbreak At Least 15 Times Deadlier Than Reported

The 2009 swine flu pandemic killed an estimated 284,500 people. The total is more than 15 times the number confirmed by laboratory tests at the time, according to a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

The study indicates the toll could be as high as 579,000. The original count from the World Health Organization was 18,500. The WHO had initially warned the count would be low because deaths of people without access to health care does not get counted and that the virus cannot always be found in the body after death. Continue reading