| GEO Health|
| Pandemic still threat to young, expert says|
| Updated at: 1325 PST, Friday, April 16, 2010|
GENEVA: The H1N1 flu pandemic is as severe as influenza pandemics in 1957 and 1968 and remains a threat, especially to healthy young adults, a leading health expert said on Wednesday.
John Mackenzie, the Australian who heads the World Health Organisation's independent but secretive Emergency Committee, also said he was not aware of any of its 15 members being approached by drug companies seeking to influence their decision-making.
"This is just as severe as we saw in 1957 and 1968, with one major difference. We are not seeing deaths in the elderly but we are seeing them in a more important group of the population, healthy young adults," Mackenzie said in a rare presentation.
"It is much more severe than people tend to talk about," he told a three-day meeting called to review the way the WHO handled the pandemic.
The official death toll so far from H1N1 is 17,700, but the WHO says it will take at least a year or two after the pandemic ends to establish the true number.
The 1957 and 1968 pandemics killed about 2 million and 1 million people respectively, according to the WHO. Seasonal flu kills up to 500,000 a year, 90 percent of them frail elderly people.
The Emergency Committee played a key role in advising the U.N. agency on progressively moving up its six-phase scale, leading to the declaration of a full pandemic last June.
Phase changes have implications for switching from production of seasonal flu vaccine to pandemic vaccine. Moving to phase 6 also triggered advance purchase agreements that some Western countries had with drug companies.
Swine flu has turned out to be less severe than feared, and critics have said the WHO created needless panic and caused Western governments to stockpile vaccines that were unused.
Mackenzie said he expected the committee to convene again in two or three weeks to advise WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on whether the world has moved to a post-peak phase. He indicated that such a decision remained premature.