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Global flu alert level debated

THE head of the World Health Organization said yesterday that she would not hesitate to raise the global pandemic alert to the highest level if the new H1N1 flu is determined to be spreading globally.

"When I see more signals coming from the virus itself or the spread of the disease, including severity, I would not shy away from making a very difficult decision," Margaret Chan said.

"For Phase 5 to Phase 6, I need to satisfy myself that this is a global phenomenon," she told the WHO's annual meeting in Geneva. Several flu-affected countries have been calling for new criteria for declaring the full alert.

Under current WHO rules, Chan would be required to raise the pandemic alert to 6 as soon as the newly discovered flu spreads in a sustained way in two of the world's regions, even if it continues to cause mainly mild symptoms. Although large pockets have appeared outside its North American stronghold, with infections rising quickly in Japan and clusters seen in Britain and Spain, the WHO has so far kept its alert level at 5 which means a pandemic is "imminent."


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