The pandemic is not over

The current pandemic was first recognised in April of 2009. Illness has appeared in waves as would be expected of a pandemic virus. India, New Zealand and Thailand are currently experiencing large scale outbreaks.

The pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus has two features which distinguish it from seasonal flu.

  • It is more lethal to children, pregnant women and middle-aged adults than seasonal flu.
  • The elderly seem to have some preexisting immunity to it.

These features have not changed. Most recent victims in India and New Zealand have been middle-aged or younger.

Given that the virus has given no indication of a change to a less lethal form nor given any indication of losing its ability to infect people, it would seem obvious that the pandemic continues. That is hardly surprising given that the 1918 pandemic lasted from March 1918 until June 1920, over two years (Wikipedia). There is no reason we should not expect to see another wave of illness this Fall and Winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

Yet, Margaret Chan has declared the pandemic over. And this is not a mere technical declaration. She is making strong, predictive statements:

“The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course.” – Bloomberg News, Aug. 11, 2010

This statement is cruel, arrogant and dangerous.

It is cruel because it shows disregard for the large numbers of people in India who were dying even as Chan was uttering these words. It is arrogant because she seeks to define reality herself which is at variance with the facts. And it is dangerous because people who might otherwise have sought treatment may die because they now have the impression that the virus is no longer a threat.

Some may choose to believe that the pandemic is over because Margaret Chan says so. I prefer to live in the reality-based world and will not consider the pandemic over until the H1N1 virus stops acting like a pandemic virus.

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Filed under Outbreak, public health

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