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2009年6月16日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 13(IHT/Asahi: June 16,2009)
EDITORIAL: New swine flu pandemic

The new strain of swine influenza has become a global pandemic and will inevitably spread even further.

Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization's director-general, announced the disease is now a pandemic and raised the alert level from Phase 5 to the maximum Phase 6.

The last great pandemic, called the Hong Kong flu, struck 41 years ago in 1968. The emergence of a new type of influenza had been seen as inevitable.

According to the WHO, the outbreak started in Mexico and has now spread to 75 countries and regions. The number of confirmed patients alone has reached nearly 30,000, although the actual figure may be several times as large.

The WHO decided to raise the alert level due to the constant increase in human-to-human transmissions in Australia, now that the Southern Hemisphere has entered the usual flu-prone season of winter.

The concern now is a further outbreak and spread of the virus in the many Southern-Hemisphere countries that are relatively poor and lacking in medical resources. The raising of the alert level was meant, in part, to signal an alarm for those countries.

According to the WHO announcements, the severity of symptoms caused by the virus is "moderate." Most people show minor symptoms and recover quickly. There have been about 140 deaths so far. But it is reassuring to note that there are no signs of a sudden surge in the death toll.

On the other hand, it is worrisome that various characteristics of the new swine flu differ from the usual influenza--the high number of patients under age 26 and the tendency for severe cases to occur among patients in their 30s and 40s.

The important thing is to start treatment as early as possible. Pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses must be especially careful.

We must not let our guard down.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment, suggests that the battle against the pandemic should be likened to running a marathon. The fight against the disease will continue for many years with many ups and downs.

In line with the marathon reference, all countries and all people of the world will take part in this race. The virus will infect many of them sooner or later.

Moreover, this is a marathon in which all countries and individuals must work together to reach the same goal. That is because if the virus rages in one corner of the world, it will eventually end up on our doorsteps.

With this in mind, Japan must actively participate in international assistance. We must pay attention to developing countries and help them with treatment and research.

Of course, Japan must not let its domestic alert slip, either.

We can fully expect a major outbreak in autumn, the usual flu season. A growing number of patients would mean a higher risk of more serious cases. There is no way of knowing how the virus might mutate by then.

The WHO says countries where the infection has spread should divert their resources from time-consuming inspections and tests to treatment of patients and damage control.

Is Japan prepared for this?


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