Experts to Review Status of H1N1 Flu Pandemic

An expert panel that advises the World Health Organization on pandemics will meet Tuesday to decide whether to declare the H1N1 flu outbreak over.

The WHO said in a statement Monday that its emergency committee will begin a teleconference Tuesday and results will be posted later in the day on its website.

Earlier this month, a WHO spokesman said the committee would consider three main options.These would be to conclude that the pandemic was still in force and retain the WHO's current phase 6 on its 6-level pandemic scale; state that pandemic had moved into a transitional "post-peak" phase; or declare that the pandemic was over.

The WHO's guidance on whether a disease constitutes a pandemic determines how its 193 member governments handle an outbreak, including stockpiling vaccines and antivirals.

The United Nations body has been accused of exaggerating the dangers of the H1N1 outbreak, which was declared a full pandemic in June 2009 after emerging two months earlier in April.

Symptoms suffered by most people infected by the virus, widely known as swine flu, have been milder than in other recent pandemics, but WHO experts say the present outbreak is still severe and its ease of transmission makes it dangerous if it were to mutate into a more lethal form.

The WHO says that over 18,000 deaths have been confirmed by laboratory tests as being caused by H1N1, but the real death toll is much higher.

The virus is currently most active in parts of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, with some activity in parts of Chile.

The emergency committee had been waiting for the onset of the southern hemisphere winter before conducting its review.