WHO Prepares to State the Obvious

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Over the past few weeks, the World Health Organization has been claiming repeatedly that the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, will be declared a level six pandemic, the designation of highest possible concern. The virus has infected 26,563 people in seventy-three countries and caused 140 deaths. ACSH staffers believe that the WHO should take action. We see articles like this every other day, and they re always saying they re on the verge of raising H1N1 to level six. So when will they do it and get it over with so they can stop talking about it? asks ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross understands why the WHO is stepping lightly: They re trying to prepare the public so that the declaration doesn t cause a panic, since the level six designation is really just a statistical consideration.

Some delays have been attributed to a modification of the scale used to label the outbreak. Last week they said they incorporated into the scale not only the frequency of cases but also the virulence, says Dr. Whelan, which would actually diminish the virus status, since it does not appear to be highly virulent thus far.

Dr. Ross adds, "But this new influenza strain will likely recur with more intensity in the fall and winter, so complacency especially in developing and producing an effective vaccine is not in order."

Whatever the reasons for dragging this out, ACSH staffers have grown weary of hearing the WHO constantly crying wolf. Dr. Whelan advises: Do it or be quiet about it.