Local News

Worldwide spread of flu continues

Posted June 11, 2009 8:12 a.m. EDT

— The World Health Organization held an emergency swine flu meeting Thursday and was likely to declare the first flu pandemic in 41 years as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere.

WHO says its pandemic announcement would not mean the situation was worsening, since no mutations have been detected in the virus to show it is getting more deadly.

There are 59 cases of the H1N1 virus in North Carolina. Four new cases, an adult and three children, were confirmed Wednesday in Johnston County.

State health officials say it is getting tougher to keep up with the number of people with flu-like symptoms.

"We're now at the point where we are telling clinicians if they see flu-like illness, fever, cough, sore throat, that they should consider that to be H1N1 and act accordingly," said Dr. Megan Davies, with the N.C. Department of Health.

Due to all the new cases, the World Health Organization is close to declaring a swine flu pandemic, a move that would mean the virus is widespread around the world, and could trigger a large-scale vaccine production.

"It is likely in light of sustained community transmission in countries outside of North America - most notably in Australia – that level 6 will be declared," Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers, adding it would be Thursday.

Phase 6 is WHO's highest alert level and means that a swine flu pandemic is under way. The last pandemic – the Hong Kong flu of 1968 – killed about 1 million people. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

The long-awaited pandemic announcement is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe.

The designation would also prompt the state health department to test less, and to stop providing daily numbers of how many people are infected.

"We'll talk more about what percentage of doctor visits are related to flu-like illness, rather than specific numbers because the number of cases will be such that it will be difficult to keep up with them on a daily basis," Davies said.

Drugmakers are on track to have a H1N1 vaccine in the fall.

Health officials say people in high-risk groups, such as children under age five, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions, need to be extra careful and see a doctor if they feel sick.

Ways you can help prevent the transmission of the H1N1 virus are:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick
  • Stay at home if you are sick

Influenza-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea or vomiting associated with this virus.

Like seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus can vary in severity from mild to severe. This strain of influenza appears to be milder than the seasonal influenza.