As nations around the world confirm more and more cases of swine flu, the World Health Organization has decided to raise the phase of alert to 5, which is one level short of an all-out pandemic.
The WHO said the phase 5 alert means there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up.
Although all the deaths except one have occurred in Mexico, the impact of swine flu is already being felt. Just ask pig farmers, whose industry is is suffering thanks, in part, to the misconception that the flu can be transmitted through pork (it canâ€™t). Additionally, with airlines anticipating significant losses because of travel restrictions and some lawmakers considering closing the U.S./Mexican border, the economic impact of swine flu looks to be considerable even if the virus turns out to be far less dangerous than feared.
Of course, we should be so lucky if only the economy is injured by this disease. Given the fatal influenzas of the past and this virusâ€™s quick spread, itâ€™s hard to fault governments and individuals from erring on the side of caution. Here in South Texas, there are unofficial reports of hundreds, maybe thousands of positive flu tests that have not yet been confirmed as swine flu due to the local health departmentsâ€™ lack of resources to test so many samples. While the lack of fatalities is encouraging, the idea that the official number of infections may be drastically low is worrisome.
By all evidence, this virus has indeed reached a near-pandemic stage. What remains to be seen is not whether it spreads but what damage it does. We can only pray for the best.