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WHO Declaration of Swine Flu Pandemic Looks Imminent
Date:6/9/2009

H1N1's swift spread in Australia may meet criteria for full alert, agency says

TUESDAY, June 9 (HealthDay News) -- A surge in cases of H1N1 swine flu in Australia may tip the balance and cause the World Health Organization to soon declare the first flu pandemic since 1968, agency officials said Tuesday.

Cases in Australia rose by more than 1,000 on Monday, with most occurring in the southern state of Victoria. Rapid spread of the virus in a region beyond North America has been considered a key factor in labeling the outbreak a pandemic.

"We are getting really very close to knowing that we are in a pandemic situation," WHO influenza chief Keiji Fukuda said in Geneva.

He said the agency was concerned about the possible "adverse effects" of moving the alert from its current status of phase 5 to the highest level, phase 6, indicating a full pandemic, the Associated Press reported. Fukuda cited concerns over possible panic among the public or inappropriate steps taken by governments.

However, "on the surface of it, I think we are in phase 6," said Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general. According to Chan, it is crucial to verify that H1N1 has become established beyond North America before a pandemic is declared.

She said WHO was planning a conference call Wednesday with governments to verify various reports. "Once I get indisputable evidence, I will make the announcement," she said.

According to the latest WHO data, there are now 25,288 reported cases of swine flu infection across 73 countries, including 139 deaths. That includes 13,217 cases and 27 deaths reported as of last Friday in the United States by officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the vast majority of infections and deaths have occurred in Mexico (the source of the outbreak) and the United States, person-to-person transmission in now being reported in Australia and Chile, a
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