WHO gets ready declare a swine flu pandemic

By MARIA CHENG AND FRANK JORDANS – 14 hours ago

GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization is gearing up to declare a swine flu pandemic, a move that could trigger both the large-scale production of vaccines and questions about why the step was delayed for weeks as the virus continued to spread.

On Wednesday, WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan quizzed eight countries with large swine flu outbreaks to see if a pandemic, or global epidemic, should be declared. After Chan’s teleconference, the agency announced that an emergency meeting with its flu experts would be held Thursday.

Since swine flu first emerged in Mexico and the United States in April, it has spread to 74 countries around the globe. On Wednesday, WHO reported 27,737 cases including 141 deaths. Most cases are mild and require no treatment.

The world is in phase 5 of WHO’s pandemic alert scale, meaning a global outbreak is imminent. Moving to phase 6, the highest level, means a pandemic has begun. If that declaration is made, it will push drugmakers to fast-track production of a swine flu vaccine.

Chan says she personally believes that a pandemic is under way, but was seeking clear proof that swine flu is spreading rapidly from person to person outside the Americas before declaring a global epidemic.

“Once I get indisputable evidence I will make the announcement,” she told reporters Tuesday.

It would be the first flu pandemic in 41 years, since the Hong Kong flu of 1968.

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