February 11, 2010

WHO Panel To Assess Whether H1N1 Pandemic Has Peaked

The World Health Organization's top influenza expert said on Thursday it would convene its emergency committee later this month to examine whether the H1N1 flu pandemic has peaked, Reuters reported.

Keiji Fukuda told a news conference they are hoping that the "worst is behind us".

The committee, which makes recommendations on the state of a pandemic to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, will decide whether the H1N1 pandemic declared in June had entered a post-peak or transition phase, he said.

Fukuda believes that designating a transition phase in this way -- indicating that the pandemic is continuing but the overall trend is back toward seasonal patterns of influenza -- would help national health authorities look to the future.

Fukuda warned that even if the WHO decided the pandemic had peaked, the virus remained active, causing disease and death, and could continue to flare up in some regions, as it had done recently in West Africa.

"The ending of a pandemic cannot be construed an abrupt on-or-off situation," he added.

He also explained that while laboratory-confirmed deaths total more than 15,000, the real toll is likely to be much higher, although that will not be established for a year or two.

A firm date has not yet been set for the WHO's emergency committee meeting, but Fukuda believes it would probably be in the last week of February.

Next week, another group of influenza experts would meet to make recommendations on the composition of the flu vaccine for the next northern hemisphere influenza season. The recommendations will be published on February 18.

"H1N1 remains the most dominant influenza virus, so it is possible that it would be included in the next seasonal jab," Fukuda added.


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