Kurt Heine
June 5, 2009

The World Health Organization’s pandemic alert scale should consider the severity of diseases instead of just the geographic spread, an advisory committee said today.

[efoods]The Geneva-based WHO within days will declare the first influenza pandemic in 41 years, according to people familiar with the United Nations agency’s plans. WHO’s International Health Regulations Committee urged the agency “to introduce severity assessments in any future announcements of pandemic phase changes,” WHO said today in a statement.

Swine flu, also known as H1N1, is entrenched in North America, Australia and Chile. WHO says 21,940 cases, including 125 deaths, have been reported in 69 countries. In most cases, the illness causes symptoms no more serious than seasonal flu. Raising WHO’s six-step pandemic scale to its highest level might spur some countries to restrict travel or ban public events — measures unneeded for swine flu.

“There was a broad consensus on the importance of including information on severity” in deciding whether WHO should raise the pandemic alert to the highest level, WHO said in the statement.

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