WHO near declaring a flu pandemic

Associated Press / June 11, 2009
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GENEVA - The World Health Organization is gearing up to declare a swine flu pandemic, which could trigger large-scale production of vaccines.

The WHO's chief, Dr. Margaret Chan, yesterday quizzed eight countries with large outbreaks to see if a pandemic, or global epidemic should be declared. An emergency meeting with flu experts will be held today.

Swine flu has spread to 74 countries since April. Most cases are mild and require no treatment.

Chan said she believes a pandemic is under way; "Once I get indisputable evidence I will make the announcement," she told reporters Tuesday.

It would be the first flu pandemic in 41 years.

At GlaxoSmithKline PLC, a spokesman said the company was already working with a key ingredient of the swine flu vaccine to see how quickly doses could be produced. Other major pharmaceutical makers, including Sanofi Pasteur, have also been working on a swine flu vaccine.

It could take up to six months before large amounts of a swine flu vaccine are available.

If a global outbreak is announced, countries would probably activate their own pandemic preparedness plans if they haven't already.