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Another Flu Pandemic Is Inevitable, World Health Organization Says

The World Health Organization released what it’s calling the “most comprehensive and far-reaching” strategy for fighting influenza Monday, reminding the world that the threat of a pandemic is “ever-present.”

“The question is not if we will have another pandemic, but when,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. “We must be vigilant and prepared—the cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention.”

The WHO Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030 urges every country to have a plan to fight influenza and contribute to global preparedness. It also focuses on the development of improved vaccines, antivirals, and treatments to distribute worldwide.

While the danger influenza poses to public health is well recognized during a pandemic—such as the H1N1 virus of 2009, which infected at least one in five people worldwide within the first year—the WHO strategy says the “substantial morbidity and mortality” of the flu is “often underappreciated in the context of year-round seasonal influenza.”

WHO estimates there are 1 billion cases of influenza around the world each year, with 290,000 to 650,000 influenza-related respiratory deaths. The organization recommends an annual vaccination as the most effective prevention, especially for those at higher risk of contracting the virus.

This year’s flu season is ongoing, with as many as 26.3 million people infected, resulting in 31,200 deaths.