Monday, May 4, 2009
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) pushed back at critics who have accused it of over-reacting to the H1N1 swine flu epidemic warning it may return “with a vengeance” in the months ahead.
In her first extensive media interview since alerting the world to a potential flu pandemic nine days ago, Dr. Margaret Chan, the agency’s director-general, told the Financial Times that the end of the flu season in the northern hemisphere meant an initial outbreak could be milder but then a second wave more lethal, as happened in 1918.
In 1918, the first wave — or spike of influenza deaths was mild. But as winter approached, a second, far more lethal wave of flu illnesses occurred resulting in more than 50 million deaths world-wide.
Fresh data from Mexico suggested the impact of the flu could be less than initially thought. The Mexican government, which had already scaled back its original estimate of 176 deaths, said 19 of the suspected 100 deaths from the H1N1 virus had been confirmed.
But Ms. Chan warned that an apparent decline in mortality rates outside and within Mexico did not mean the pandemic was ending.
“We hope the virus fizzles out, because if it doesn’t we are heading for a big outbreak.” But she said: “I’m not predicting the pandemic will blow up, but if I miss it and we don’t prepare, I fail. I’d rather over-prepare than not prepare.”