World Health Organization Declares a Swine Flu Pandemic

The swine flu epidemic has been elevated to pandemic status, the first global flu epidemic in 41 years. The World Health Organization raised its alert level for the A(H1N1) virus from phase 5 to 6, indicating a global pandemic, after a sharp rise in cases in Australia, which reported 1,263 cases today, and rising numbers in Britain, Japan, Chile and elsewhere. In an article last month, Knowledge at Wharton reported that academic observers had concluded that despite the fact that the virus was not as deadly as first feared, the urgent level of official and media response to the outbreak was appropriate (see "Has the Response to Swine Flu Been Too Feverish?"). "On the whole, I think if you have a new strain of the flu, you should be yelling about it," Arthur Caplan, director of Penn's Center for Bioethics, told Knowledge at Wharton. For the most part, he said, the aggressive response by public health authorities was worthy of praise. "I find it irresponsible for people to say it was overhyped or that people didn't react in a responsible manner." The article also noted that the virus was spreading and was expected to migrate to the southern hemisphere, where autumn will soon yield to winter, the flu's favorite season. As long as the virus remains active, health officials warned, it threatens to mutate into something more deadly.