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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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WHO Declares Swine Flu Pandemic

Pandemic Status Means Swine Flu Bug Is More Widespread, Not More Severe


Exactly how worried should people be? Keiji Fukuda, MD, WHO interim assistant director-general for health security and environment, said people should know that if they develop a fever and cough, the "vast chances are they are going to do well." But if serious symptoms develop, such as trouble breathing, it's time so seek urgent medical care.

"The average person should know about these things ... but definitely not get overly anxious about it," Fukuda said. "It is like most things in life: Understand it, put it in context, and go on with things."

The WHO could have declared a pandemic weeks ago when it became clear that H1N1 swine flu was spreading in communities outside North America. The WHO's official definition of a Phase 6 pandemic -- the highest stage of its pandemic alert system -- is community spread of a new disease in at least two regions of the world.

But the WHO held off making the declaration in order to give nations more time to get their pandemic plans in place. Most of these plans were based on fears of pandemic H5N1 bird flu. Bird flu plans called for drastic measures that are not appropriate for dealing with swine flu.

The WHO pandemic flu stages are:

  • Phase 1 to Phase 3: Predominantly animal infections
  • Phase 4: Sustained human-to-human spread
  • Phase 5 to Phase 6: Widespread human infection
  • Post-Peak: Possibility of recurrent events
  • Post-Pandemic: Disease activity at seasonal levels

The WHO pandemic staging system had been at Phase 3 -- human infections with a new virus, but without consistent person-to-person spread -- because of the H5N1 bird flu. When swine flu began spreading across the Americas, the WHO quickly raised the alert level to Phase 4 and then to Phase 5.

But WHO member nations asked the WHO to hold off on declaring Phase 6 until it could issue action recommendations appropriate for swine flu.

For more information on what a swine flu pandemic means for you, see the WebMD Pandemic FAQ. For more information on swine flu, see the WebMD Swine Flu FAQ.

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