Fertility and pregnancy * Young people * Travel health

Swine flu unstoppable says WHO

Young people and pregnant women most at risk Be aware of warning signs of serious illness

The director general of the World Health Organisation has warned that the international spread of the new H1N1 flu virus is inevitable.

With over 100 countries reporting cases in the early stages of the pandemic, Dr. Margaret Chan conceded that "further international spread was unstoppable."

She described the pandemic to date as being of "moderate severity", as the vast majority of people infected with the virus have experienced only mild symptoms and have usually fully recovered within a week, even without medication.

Pregnant women and people with pre-existing health problems were most at risk from complications if infected by the virus, she said, such as viral pneumonia, which can be life threatening.

Although most people recover quickly from the disease, a small minority of healthy people have died for reasons "poorly understood."

Doctors and people need to be alert to warning signs that the virus may cause more severe illness requiring immediate medical attention. These include:

  • difficulty in breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • a high temperature lasting more than three day

In children, additional warning signs to look out for include:

  • difficulty in waking up
  • lethargy
  • lacking alertness

In the UK there are now over 7400 confirmed cases of swine flu, but this is likely to be an underestimate. Over half of all confirmed cases have occurred in London (1939), West Midlands (2582) and Scotland (1217), and over 60% of cases have occurred in those under the age of 20. The three people who have died due to infection with the virus had underlying health problems.

This article was published on Sat 4 July 2009

Image © Václav Hroch - Fotolia.com

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