The last pandemic was a ‘quiet killer.’ Ten years after swine flu, no one can predict the next one

Source(s): STAT News

By Helen Branswell, Senior Writer, Infectious Disease


On June 11, 2009 — 10 years ago today — the World Health Organization declared that the swine flu virus we now simply call H1N1 had indeed triggered a pandemic, the first time in four decades a new flu virus had emerged and was triggering wide-scale illness around the globe.


Science currently has no way to predict when pandemics will occur. The fact that there were 41 years between the 1968 pandemic — known as the Hong Kong flu — and the 2009 pandemic doesn’t mean the next will take another 30 years or so to materialize. There is no pattern; flu pandemics happen when they happen, and pandemic planning is ever ongoing.


Whenever there’s a major outbreak there are postmortems. Among the key lessons learned from 2009 was it was not enough to tell countries a pandemic had started. They also needed real-time guidance on how severe it seemed to be.

It was also clear that a WHO-established program designed to guarantee low-income countries access to some pandemic vaccine needed more work. In 2009, the WHO had asked vaccine-purchasing countries to donate a portion of their supplies as the vaccine came out of the pipeline. But the reality was that by the time the agency had vaccine to redistribute, the threat had largely dissipated and with it demand for vaccine.


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