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WHO may declare public health emergency

The death toll from a new global virus threat rose to at least nine as experts from around the world gathered Wednesday in Switzerland to determine how to best manage the outbreak.

The World Health Organization’s emergency committee, meeting in Geneva, will determine whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, or a PHEIC. The panel has made similar declarations for outbreaks of SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika and swine flu.

Declaring a PHEIC gives the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, powers to issue recommendations to countries to combat the new virus, although WHO has no enforcement power. 

The U.S. representative at the meeting is Martin Cetron, who heads the division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first U.S. case, reported Tuesday, involves a resident in his 30s who first displayed symptoms Sunday. He was listed in good condition at Providence Regional Medical Center in Snohomish County north of Seattle. 

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