Brace yourself. The World Health Organization has eleveated swine flu to "Phase 6," classifying the virus as a pandemic. (This is not to be confused with Phase IV, when hive-mind ants roam the Earth in search of blood.)
The announcement essentially warns WHO's 194 member nations to expect the arrival of the new flu strain, which is likely to infect up to one-third of the population in the first wave and return in later waves over the next several years.
"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic of the 21st century," Margaret Chan, WHO's director general, said this morning. "We anticipate that this action will raise many questions and that often these questions do not have simple answers."
But not too afraid:
WHO says its pandemic announcement would not mean the situation was worsening, since no mutations have been detected in the virus to show it is getting more deadly....
"A move to level 6 is not a verdict on the severity of the virus," she said. "It simply means that the extent of global spread now fulfills the definition of a pandemic."
Both articles are worth reading to see how bipolar the World Health Organization can be. They understand that their announcement will worry people, but they don't really want to worry people, but people need to be worried, but it's important not to overstate the danger, but the danger could suddenly increase without warning at any time. Part of the problem, as noted above, is that the criteria for pandemic status have more to do with geography than with severity, making them somewhat counterintuitive for those of us who aren't epidemiologists. This is a problem that the World Health Organization is only beginning to fix.