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WHO could declare end of H1N1 pandemic this week

The H1N1 pandemic is likely to be officially consigned to the history books in the next week or so, says Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization.

Chan suggests that the global health agency and the experts that advise it on this matter are feeling increasingly confident the virus responsible for the 2009 pandemic is acquiring the patterns of seasonal flu viruses.

"All in all, people feel that the overall picture looks like we are ready to declare post-pandemic globally very soon," Chan said in an interview from Hong Kong.

The so-called emergency committee is likely to convene a meeting this week, she suggests. The committee is a panel of external and as yet unidentified experts who have advised Chan on major matters related to the pandemic. Chan, who has been harshly criticized for not identifying the members of the committee, has promised to do so once the pandemic is declared over.

The "all clear" could be sounded after that meeting, though outbreaks of H1N1 in schools in parts of New Zealand may delay the decision a little.

"We need to look at the situation. Another week or two? I cannot predict," Chan says.

The call will be made on advice from the emergency committee and with input of the countries currently most affected by H1N1 activity. New Zealand officials will be questioned on how the virus is behaving there. And the committee will likely want to hear from India, which is reporting quite a bit of H1N1 activity of late.

The fact that the announcement still remains to be made may take some people by surprise. In much of the Northern Hemisphere, H1N1's second wave peaked last fall and there's been remarkably little flu activity since the start of the year.

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