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Alert level held stable

THE chief of the World Health Organization said yesterday that she is not raising the world swine flu alert level just yet.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said the swine flu epidemic is in "a grace period" with the WHO alert remaining at phase 5 out of a possible 6 for the last month. Chan said the danger now is that the swine flu virus could mix with other flu strains and become more dangerous.

At phase 6, the world has a swine flu pandemic - meaning there is an epidemic in at least two world regions.

Britain, Japan, China and other nations urged the WHO yesterday to change the way it decides to declare a pandemic, saying the agency must consider how deadly the virus is, not just how fast it is spreading. The debate arose as WHO began its annual meeting, a five-day event attended by hundreds of health experts from its 193 members.

Swine flu is expected to dominate this year's conference, and WHO must consider whether it should raise its alert level or tell manufacturers to begin making a specific swine flu vaccine. WHO's current system focuses on how widespread the disease has become without regard to its severity.

Some members are anxious to avoid having the agency declare a swine flu pandemic, because the ramifications of that scientific decision could be very costly.


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