Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the flu alert to Phase 6, declaring swine influenza (H1N1) a global pandemic. According to WHO, increasing the alert to Phase 6 signifies that swine flu has spread to more countries but does not necessarily mean the virus is causing more severe illness. This new pandemic is the first global flu epidemic in 41 years. The change in the WHO pandemic alert level to Phase 6 will have little impact on our response in the United States, and the American Red Cross continues to advocate preparedness.
“The American Red Cross is well prepared for this current H1N1 level of severity,” said Dr. Richard J. Benjamin, Chief Medical Officer for the American Red Cross, “we have plans in place to protect the people we serve and will continue to work to ensure the safety of those who need our assistance.” As of June 10, according to WHO, 74 countries have officially reported 27,737 cases of swine flu (H1N1), including 141 deaths. The outbreak was first discovered in April of this year in North America, and cases are being found in a growing number of states and countries.
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At this time, WHO considers the outbreak to be moderate, meaning most people are recovering from H1N1 without needing medical care or hospitalization. On the whole, levels of the illness are similar to levels seen during seasonal influenza periods, and hospitals and health care systems in most countries have been able to cope with the number of people needing care.
The mission of the American Red Cross is helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The Red Cross not only responds to tens of thousands of disasters each year, but also has responded to many public health emergencies in the past such as the influenza pandemic of 1918. The Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following tips to ensure you stay healthy:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective when soap and water aren't available.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way. Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick. Influenza (flu) is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing. If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
Additional information from the Red Cross is available on how to prevent and prepare yourself and your family from pandemic flu.
Up-to-the-minute updates on the swine flu can also be found at the CDC Website. People seeking information on human swine flu should visit the CDC Website or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.