WHO Says H1N1 Flu Still a Pandemic

International agency says swine flu is still infecting people around the globe.

ByABC News
June 3, 2010, 9:16 AM

June 3, 2010— -- Even as an emergency committee that advises the World Health Organization announced today that swine flu is still a pandemic, medical authorities in the United States say the H1N1 virus is past its peak.

World Health Organization director Margaret Chan said the current pandemic alert level will remain at the highest possible -- phase 6. Chan said the WHO may revisit the decision in July.

Between 43 million and 89 million people caught H1N1 in the year since U.S. officials discovered the virus in April 2009 and between 8,870 and 18,300 people died, according to estimates by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the CDC stopped reporting H1N1 flu infections by late May, stating on its Web site that "only a small number of influenza viruses are being reported, most of which are 2009 H1N1."

"The 'pandemic' refers to the large numbers of influenza epidemics occurring coincident with the spread of the new strain," said Dr. Donald Henderson, the resident scholar at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"That occurred and basically burned itself out weeks ago. But the strain and some cases continue to occur and will continue to occur until a new pandemic strain emerges."

The WHO reports that the Caribbean, Central America and Cuba "continue to experience active circulation of pandemic influenza."

But the widespread infections may actually be reason to finally relax about H1N1. As the flu spreads through a community, those infected will build up immunity. Then, if enough people in one area are immune, the virus will not have a chance to spread to those in the community who aren't immune.

"The H1N1 pandemic was so widespread for a fairly extended period of time, there really hardly isn't an area of the globe it didn't affect," said Dr. Pascal Imperato, dean and distinguished service professor at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center School of Public Health in Brooklyn, New York.