Swine flu declared pandemic but local health officials say not to worry

Chances of getting it 1 in 23,000, of dying from it 1 in 10 million

The World Health Organization has declared the H1N1 outbreak a pandemic, but local experts Friday said Bay Area residents should not panic about an increased swine flu threat in the region.

Because the flu has continued to spread worldwide, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan announced Thursday that the organization would raise the influenza pandemic alert level from Phase 5 to Phase 6, marking the first official global flu pandemic since the Hong Kong flu in 1968.

Since the organization's announcement in late April about the emergence of the virus, 74 countries have reported 29,669 cases of H1N1 infection and 145 deaths, according to the most recent WHO statistics.

Those deaths include 27 in the U.S. and three in the Bay Area, one of which was announced Thursday after it was discovered that a middle-aged man who passed away Wednesday at a hospital in Alameda County had tested positive for H1N1.

Last week, health officials in Contra Costa County announced that a 9-year-old girl in that county who had the H1N1 virus died May 29, while Alameda County health officials had announced Tuesday the death of another middle-aged man who had contracted the virus.

Alameda County Public Health Department spokeswoman Sherri Willis said both of the men who died had suffered from chronic health issues, with swine flu being one of many problems they were dealing with.

Michael Ranney, an associate professor of cognition and development at UC Berkeley, said that despite the handful of H1N1 deaths, the likelihood of contracting the virus is still slim, and the chances of dying from it are even slimmer.

Ranney estimated that according to the number of H1N1 cases in the U.S., the chances of getting it are about one in 23,000, and the chances of dying from it are about one in 10 million.

"At least for the moment the flu isn't too worrisome," he said. "It's not at the level of being bitten by a shark or dying by a bee sting."

In comparison, the seasonal flu killed about 36,000 people in the U.S. in 2008 while the amount of deaths in motor vehicle crashes was nearly 40,000, Ranney said.

Bay City News,Jeb Bing

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