November 26, 2011 by staff 

H3N2: VIRUS TYPE, The spread of an odd new flu virus that has been jumping from pigs to people in parts of the United States has the World Health Organization gearing up its response planning, a senior official of the agency says.

The UN health body is figuring out what needs to be done if the virus continues to spread and a global response is required, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security and environment said in an interview from Geneva.

The WHO wants to be ready to make recommendations and issue guidance to countries if the need arises — though Fukuda stressed at this point it is far from certain there will be that need.

“We’re very aware that we don’t want to over-play or under-play. We’re trying to get that right,” says Fukuda, a leading influenza expert.

“(We’re) trying to make sure that we’re ready to move quickly, if we have to move quickly, but also trying not to raise alarm bells.”

The desire to be prepared without raising alarm is a legacy of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The WHO was heavily criticized in Europe for declaring that event a pandemic when the outbreak turned out to be far milder than originally feared.

But what exactly the agency — and the world — might need to prepare for now is very unclear. With the public relations problems of the 2009 outbreak fresh in the minds of health officials, no one is using the “p” word these days.

Yet in some respects the parallels to 2009 are striking.

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