THE world must be “vigilant and prepared” for the “ever-present” threat of a global flu outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
Launching its global influenza strategy, the WHO said the next pandemic of the potentially lethal virus “is a matter of when, not if”.
The occurrence of an influenza pandemic is “inevitable” in an “interconnected world” and the dire consequences should not be underestimated, the WHO said.
“The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said in a statement.
“We must be vigilant and prepared – the cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention.”
To protect people across the globe from this threat, the WHO has today released its Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030.
The last global outbreak was caused by the H1N1 virus in 2009 and 2010.
The spike in flu cases during the pandemic of 2009/10 was driven by children returning to school, health officials have claimed.
Because children have weaker immune systems, they spread the virus more easily, resulting in a stronger transmission of the flu, according to experts.
During that outbreak, at least 18,500 people died from flu across the globe, according to the World Health Organisation.
“The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
An estimated 10-200 million were infected with the virus with a case fatality rate of 0.0.3% across two years.
The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most devastating infectious disease event in recorded history, resulting in the deaths of 50 to 100 million people.
Global health experts and the WHO warn there is a risk that a more deadly flu virus will one day jump from animals to people, mutate and infect many hundreds of thousands of people.
Flu viruses are multiple and ever-changing, and they infect around a billion people every year around the world in seasonal outbreaks.
Of those infections, around 3 to 5 million are severe cases, leading to between 290,000 and 650,000 seasonal flu-related respiratory deaths.
In guidance on its website, the WHO said: “The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present. A pandemic can arise when a new influenza virus that hasn’t affected humans before emerges, spreads and causes illness in humans.
Influenza viruses are unpredictable – we can never be certain of when or from where the next pandemic will arise. However, another influenza pandemic is inevitable.
“In this interconnected world, the question is not if we will have another pandemic, but when.”