KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

To Flu Experts, ‘Pandemic’ Confirms the Obvious

"It came as no surprise on Thursday when the World Health Organization declared that the swine flu outbreak had become a pandemic," The New York Times reports. Swine flue has "reached 74 countries, and probably met the technical definition of a pandemic -- or global spread – weeks ago." Raising the alert from Phase 5 to Phase 6, the highest possible level, "does not mean that the illness, which has been mild in most people, has become any worse," because "the term pandemic reflects only the geographic spread of a new disease, not its severity." But it does "signal to countries to step up their efforts to deal with the disease," and it "also means that the health organization is asking drug makers to start making vaccine as quickly as possible." Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, said while the disease has been mild so far, it "could change at any time and become more severe." It may also prove more deadly "when it reaches poor countries with higher rates of malnutrition, AIDS and other diseases that can lower people's resistance to infection. Dr. Chan said rich countries should help poor ones less able to protect themselves" (McNeil and Grady, 6/11).

The Washington Post reports that while "the H1N1 flu outbreak represents a serious public health threat," it may also "offer Democrats a political opportunity." Democrats have added an additional $7.65 billion for flu prevention to a $106 billion emergency war funding bill currently before Congress. House Republicans have opposed the bill "because of an unrelated provision related to the International Monetary Fund, but "if GOP lawmakers follow through with their opposition by voting against the final bill next week, a 'no' vote on flu prevention will appear on the books." A senior Democratic aide "who helped to add funding in the final bill told the Post "if I were a Republican from a marginal district, I would not feel comfortable with that vote." It's happened before. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was "pummeled by liberal blogs" after she voted to "strip out nearly $900 million in pandemic flu funding from the economic stimulus bill in February," just months before the outbreak of the H1N1 virus (Murray, 6/11).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.