updated 5/26/2009 1:17:52 PM ET 2009-05-26T17:17:52

The World Health Organization defended Tuesday its decision not to declare a swine flu pandemic, saying the designation of a global outbreak would not help countries fight the outbreaks.

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According to WHO's current pandemic criteria, the world is now in phase 5, meaning a global outbreak is imminent. To reach phase 6, the highest level, the agency's current definition requires established spread of the swine flu in a region beyond North America.

With rising caseloads in Britain, Japan and Spain, some experts suspect the world has already reached the pandemic threshold.

WHO's flu chief Keiji Fukuda said declaring a global outbreak might cause panic or cynicism, and that it would change little about what governments are already doing.

"We are comfortable that countries are doing the kinds of public health actions that they need to be taking right now," he said during a press conference on Tuesday.

WHO has been under increasing pressure from some of its member countries not to announce a pandemic. Many governments fear WHO's declaration of a pandemic would cause confusion and be politically and economically damaging.

Last week, the agency caved in to the pressure, announcing on Friday it would rewrite its criteria for what defines a pandemic.

Fukuda said WHO would be consulting experts in the next few weeks to help rewrite the agency's pandemic criteria. WHO's current requirements for declaring a pandemic refer only to a new flu virus' spread, not its severity.

Fukuda said that if other countries start to report big outbreaks similar to those seen in Mexico and the United States, that could trigger the agency to raise its pandemic alert to phase 6, signifying a global outbreak.

But Fukuda said the agency would try to first consult outside experts before deciding what to do next. "I can't exactly foresee the events over the next weeks," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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