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WHO declares pandemic – now what?

June 11, 2009

Earlier today, the World Health Organization moved its pandemic alert level for the H1N1 Virus from 5 to 6, officially declaring the outbreak a worldwide pandemic.

Before people start to panic,  Sarah Bass, an associate professor of public health, says it’s not the time to worry.

“The word pandemic is scary, of course,” said Bass, who studies risk communications.  “That’s because we see it in movies and places where they’re trying to make it scary.  But the reality is that [level 6] just means that we’re seeing the virus in multiple areas of the world.  It doesn’t make it more serious than anything else.”

In fact, she stresses that when compared to the regular seasonal flu, which kills more than 35,000 people every year, the H1N1 virus is mild.

“This isn’t Ebola.  It’s just that this is a new variant of the disease we’ve never seen before – a mixture of swine, avian and human flu – and WHO puts these levels in place as part of an infrastructure to deal with outbreaks.”

Worldwide map of confirmed Swine Flu cases

Worldwide map of confirmed H1N1 cases

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