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WHO says H1N1 pandemic is over

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) today [10 Aug 2010]
declared the H1N1 influenza pandemic over, saying worldwide flu activity
has returned to typical seasonal patterns and many people have immunity to
the virus.

"The world is no longer in phase 6 of influenza pandemic alert," said WHO
director-general Margaret Chan in a press briefing from Hong Kong. "We are
now moving into the post-pandemic period. The H1N1 virus has largely run
its course." But she cautioned that the virus has not gone away and bears
continued watching, commenting, "We expect the H1N1 virus to take on the
behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some
years to come."

WHO's Emergency Committee met earlier today [10 Aug 2010] and recommended
that the agency move to the post-pandemic phase, Chan said, adding that she
fully supports the step. The declaration comes almost exactly 14 months
after WHO moved to a full phase 6 pandemic alert on 11 Jun 2009, and about
1.5 months after US health officials called off their public health
emergency declaration on 23 Jun 2010. Many had expected WHO to take the
step months ago, but the Emergency Committee said in June 2010 and again in
July that it was waiting for more information on the Southern Hemisphere's
flu season.

Considerable H1N1 activity has been reported recently in India, New
Zealand, and a few other places, with 942 new cases confirmed in India last
week [week of 2 Aug 2010]. But the current global picture is one of fairly
typical seasonal flu activity, Chan said. "Globally, the levels and
patterns of H1N1 transmission now being seen differ significantly from what
was observed during the pandemic," she said in a prepared statement.
"Out-of-season outbreaks are no longer being reported in either the
Northern or Southern Hemisphere. Influenza outbreaks, including those
primarily caused by the H1N1 virus, show an intensity similar to that seen
during seasonal epidemics.

"During the pandemic, the H1N1 virus crowded out other influenza viruses to
become the dominant virus. This is no longer the case. Many countries are
reporting a mix of influenza viruses, again as is typically seen during
seasonal epidemics." Chan added that recent studies show that 20 per cent
to 40 per cent of populations in some areas gained some immunity to the
H1N1 virus through infection. Further, "Many countries report good
vaccination coverage, especially in high-risk groups, and this coverage
further increases community-wide immunity," she said.

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