GENEVA (AP) – The World Health Organization said Friday it will change the rules for declaring a swine flu pandemic, a virus the agency’s chief called “sneaky” because of its ability to spread quickly from person to person and potentially mutate into a deadlier form.

Under political pressure from many of its 193 members to consider factors other than just the spread of the disease before announcing a global epidemic, WHO’s flu chief said “course corrections” were being made.

“What we will be looking for is events which signify a really substantial increase in risk of harm to people,” Keiji Fukuda told reporters in Geneva.

So far the virus has been mild, sickening 11,168 people and causing 86 deaths, most of them in Mexico, according to WHO.

Many countries fear a pandemic declaration would trigger mass panic, and be economically and politically damaging. For developed countries that already have activated their pandemic preparedness plans, a pandemic declaration would change little in their response strategies.

Earlier this week, Britain and other countries urged WHO to reconsider its pandemic definition.

WHO hastily responded to these concerns, as Fukuda said the agency would revise the conditions needed to move from the current phase 5 to the highest level, phase 6, which makes it a pandemic.

“The countries are telling us now that moving from phase 5 to 6 is not so helpful,” Fukuda said. He said the alert phases were developed before the outbreak hit, and now need to be adjusted to the reality of the situation.

The virus’ lethality could become one of the required criteria before a pandemic is declared, Fukuda said.

Fukuda’s comments echoed those of WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who told governments she would heed their call to caution in declaring a pandemic.

At the same time, Chan warned against complacency.

“This is a subtle, sneaky virus,” she said at the close of the weeklong meeting. “It does not announce its presence or arrival in a new country with a sudden explosion of patients seeking medical care or requiring hospitalization.”

“We expect it to continue to spread to new countries and continue to spread within countries already affected,” Chan said.

Countries taking part in the Geneva meeting agreed Friday to delay efforts to finalize a deal on sharing flu viruses, instead instructing Chan to find a solution by early next year.

Developing countries lobbied hard to ensure they would benefit from any drugs created using their virus samples.

Against that, the United States and the European Union called for samples to be shared without restriction, arguing that this was in the best interest of science and global efforts to combat disease.

Both sides agreed Chan should form a task force to investigate unresolved questions, including whether countries should have to share samples and resulting drugs could be patented. They also want the task force to consider whether doses of any new pandemic flu vaccine should be reserved for developing countries, and to report back to members in January with recommendations.

WHO said confirmed cases of the new virus – termed A/H1N1 – increased by 134 since Thursday.

The U.S. has reported the most laboratory-confirmed cases with 5,764 – an increase of 54 – followed by Mexico with 3,892.

Japan raised its tally by 35 to 294, while in Chile the caseload rose by 19 to 24.

Overall there have been 86 deaths linked to swine flu.

Of those, Mexico have been in 75, nine in the U.S., and one each in Costa Rica and Canada.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.