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WHO Will Meet To Decide If H1N1 Has Peaked

The WHO will convene a meeting of its emergency committee later this month to assess whether H1N1 (swine flu) has peaked, Keiji Fukuda, the special adviser to the WHO’s director general for pandemic influenza, said Thursday, Bloomberg reports. “While the flu continues to spread in parts of the world, notably northern Africa, eastern Europe and eastern Asia, infection activity is declining, [Fukuda] said,” according to Bloomberg (Serafino, 2/11).

Fukuda explained that the committee, which advises WHO Director-General Margaret Chan “on the state of a pandemic,” will decide whether the pandemic “had entered a post-peak or transition phase,” Reuters reports. “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, he said” (Kelland, 2/11).

“What we are hoping for is that the worst is behind us,” Fukuda said Thursday during a news briefing, Agence France-Presse reports. Since the virus was first uncovered in Mexico and the U.S. last April, there have been more than 15,000 lab confirmed deaths from H1N1, according to the WHO (2/11). Fukuda indicated that “the real toll is likely to be much higher, although that will not be established for a year or two,” Reuters writes (2/11). Fukuda also cautioned that declaring the end of a pandemic would not happen abruptly because H1N1 activity varies in different countries, CIDRAP News reports (Schnirring, 2/11).

CBC News reports that Fukuda said a group of flu experts are scheduled to meet next week to discuss which flu strains should be included in the northern hemisphere’s next seasonal flu vaccine. “Since H1N1 continues to be the main influenza virus circulating, it may be included, Fukuda said.” The groups’ recommendations will be announced on Feb. 18 (2/11).

In related news, NPR’s “On the Media” examines the media’s role in the public’s perception of H1N1. The program includes comments by New York Times health reporter Donald McNeil, sociologist Eric Klinenberg, and Glen Nowak, of the CDC (2/5).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.