WORLD Health Organisation Director General Dr Margaret Chan yesterday warned that swine flu still posed a risk in Southeast Asia despite its having been downgraded from pandemic status.
Speaking at a conference in Bangkok yesterday, Chan said the virus, known formally as A(H1N1) influenza, would circulate globally “for some years to come”.
“In the current post-pandemic period, we expect to see localised outbreaks of different magnitude, and some continuing ‘hot spots’ will continue to show high levels of H1N1 transmission,” she said. “We expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behaviour of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for years to come.”
Nima Asgari, a Phnom Penh-based public health specialist for the WHO, said the decision to downgrade the virus was based on global trends, and that the process of the virus becoming a seasonal flu would be standard.
“In Cambodia during the wet season, every year there is an increase in general flu cases,” he said. “The H1N1 swine flu subtype is becoming the dominant flu virus in Cambodia, but that’s normal.”
He said the H1N1 strain is a relatively mild virus, noting that it had claimed just seven lives in Cambodia.
“The reason it was a pandemic is because it was a new virus,” he said. “But it literally is everywhere. It’s now the dominant flu virus circulating the country.”
Chan warned yesterday that swine flu still posed a significant risk in the region. “In the immediate post-pandemic period, the virus is likely to continue to cause serious illness in a younger age group,” she said.
Health ministers across Southeast Asia met yesterday at the beginning of the four-day conference to discuss health issues including injury prevention, maternal health, acute diarrhoea, respiratory infections and universal health coverage.
The Bangkok Declaration on “Urbanisation and Health”, adopted yesterday by those in attendance, pledged to combat health problems caused by unplanned urbanisation in developing cities.