Russia has to work now so that it is prepared in the fall to deal with a rise in cases of the H1N1 flu, chief doctor Gennady Onishchenko said on Friday.
The World Health Organization upgraded the threat level for the global swine flu outbreak to that of a pandemic, the first time it has taken such a step in 40 years.
"Our primary task is preparing for the possible intensification in the spread of the influenza caused by the H1N1 virus in the fall," Russia`s chief health official said at a RIA Novosti news conference.
Onishchenko said Russia had developed plans to deal with swine flu outbreaks at the regional and municipal level since the virus was identified.
"The WHO statement reminds the world that influenza viruses such as H1N1 must be taken seriously. The situation with the epidemic could strongly change in the fall, and in many respects this will depend on the development of situation in the southern hemisphere," he said.
"The most important task in the short term is preparing for an immunization campaign against seasonal influenza and possible immunization against H1N1 influenza, which will begin at the end September."
He added that Russia was working with experts in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to share knowledge and experience.
The UN health body`s chief Margaret Chan announced on Thursday that the WHO decided to raise the pandemic alert level to the maximum of 6.
"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Chan said. "The virus is now unstoppable."
Onishchenko said on Thursday that swine flu was not a real threat in Russia, where only three cases have been registered. He added that most patients could be treated at home and urged Russians to follow regular hygiene routines, while also saying that flu-protection masks were the best defense against the virus.
"It is not complicated, but it is effective - put on a mask," the chief doctor said in an interview with Vesti 24 television. "Nobody sees this as a supernatural situation, scandalous behavior. It is a normal rule, which protects against the pandemic."
Chan stressed that the WHO`s 193 member countries should not close borders or impose travel restrictions to halt the movement of people, goods and services due to a geographical expansion o the virus.
An influenza pandemic is an epidemic of an influenza virus that spreads on a worldwide scale and infects a large proportion of the human population.
There were three flu pandemics in the last century.
The 1918 Spanish flu was the most serious pandemic, claiming over 50 million lives. It was followed by the Asian Flu in 1957 with up to 4 million deaths, and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 resulting in about 1 million deaths.
sections: Society, Nature & Health