Turns out that you cannot stop swine flu, you can only hope to… uh, never mind.

World Health Organization director Margaret Chan opened a conference on the disease last week calling the novel flu virus “unstoppable.” And there’s no more official rendering of that verdict than today’s announcement that the H1N1 swine flu variant has become a pandemic, according to WHO guidelines.

The announcement made health officials in the United Kingdom seem particularly prescient when they announced just one day before that an ounce of prevention may not be worth a pound of cure in this case. On Thursday, recently appointed Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham announced that public health officials had given up on trying to contain the spread of the disease, which is spreading rapidly in Britain. With diagnosed cases doubling every day in the United Kingdom and the possibility of the nation seeing 100,000 new cases every day as soon as August, doctors are switching tack from preventing the disease to managing it’s effects and helping patients to cope.

The task of coping with the disease could prove relatively easy – while it spreads like wildfire, the strain remains a relatively mild one. With more than 90,000 cases diagnosed, only 429 deaths have been reported, with mortality occurring mostly in patients with existing health problems other than the flu. But combating the new strain will be expensive – the British government has ordered almost eight million doses of vaccine for swine flu, which should be available in just a few months, at a cost of 88 million euros. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon estimated the UN will need $1 billion to help poorer nations combat the virus worldwide.

But even in the midst of a global recession, the fact remains that money spent on health care is generally money well spent. After all, if even Europe’s finest sorcery students are susceptible to the H1N1 swine flu, what hope do us mere mortals have of avoiding the coming pig plague?

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