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WHO Expert Meeting Makes No Decision on Pandemic Alert Raise

GENEVA, June 6 -- The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded an emergency expert meeting on Friday without making a decision to raise its pandemic alert level to the highest phase of 6.

At the Emergency Committee meeting, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan noted that the world remains in pandemic alert phase 5 and reaffirmed that WHO will continue to monitor the situation closely in all countries reporting cases of the A/H1N1 influenza, the WHO said in a statement.

The Emergency Committee is composed of international experts and its task is to give advice to the WHO chief on influenza outbreak responses.

Chan convened the committee meeting on Friday to update it on the global H1N1 situation and seek advice on proposals to introduce severity assessments in any future announcements of pandemic phase changes, the WHO statement said.

There was a broad consensus among the committee experts on the importance of including information on severity in future announcements, it said.

The committee also gave further advice regarding a number of parameters, the monitoring of which will provide information for the assessment of the severity of the epidemic.

Based on the advice of the committee, the WHO director-general also determined that it is appropriate to continue the existing temporary recommendations on the H1N1 response.

According to those recommendations, all countries should intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

But countries are not advised to close borders or to restrict international travel.

The WHO also advises that the production of seasonal influenza vaccine should continue at this time, subject to re-evaluation as the situation evolves.

Latest figures from the WHO show that the new H1N1 flu virus has caused 21,940 human infections in 69 countries, including 125 deaths. Most of the deaths occurred in Mexico, where the virus was first identified.

According to the WHO's current pandemic alert system, phase 6 means a pandemic is under way, and it requires the H1N1 flu virus to cause sustained and community-level human-to-human transmission in at least one region outside of North America, so far the only region where community-level outbreak has been confirmed.

Given the fact that most H1N1 flu cases outside of Mexico are mild ones, several countries have requested that the WHO's highest pandemic alert level, namely phase 6, should not only reflect the geographic spread of the virus but also the severity of the disease. (PNA/Xinhua)