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WHO Readies to Declare Swine Flu Pandemic
Date:6/11/2009

Emergency meeting on Thursday may be last step, health officials say

THURSDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- The World Health Organization was set on Thursday to declare the first influenza pandemic since 1968, due to the H1N1 virus' rapid spread in North America, Australia, South America, Europe and regions beyond, health officials said.

On Thursday, WHO convened an emergency teleconference, scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. EDT, to discuss the situation with leading flu experts, the Associated Press reported. Health officials from Indonesia, Scotland and Thailand have said that WHO would likely declare a swine flu pandemic following that conference.

A surge in cases of H1N1 swine flu in Australia may have tipped the balance and made a pandemic declaration likely, 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.

On Thursday, Indonesia's health minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, said WHO had notified her that "today will be declared to be phase 6," the pandemic level of the outbreak.

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

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 AP 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," Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, had also noted on Tuesday. According to Chan, it is crucial to verify that H1N1 has become established beyond North America before a
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