Sunday, February 04, 2007

Threat Of Bird Flu Pandemic In The US Top Of Agenda For Conference Of World Experts

On February 1 & 2, more than 350 of the world's top experts on influeza, pandemic management and disease control met in Arlington, Virginia.

There was a lot on the agenda, but the growing fears of a full-blown bird flu pandemic breaking out in the United States, and around the world, was clearly the chief focus.

The two days of meetings centred around "the current level of US preparedness for a possible bird flu pandemic that would result from widespread human-to-human tranmission of H5N1" :

The meeting, "Seasonal & Pandemic Influenza 2007," a follow-up to a similar conference held one year ago, is focusing on the progress made to date in implementing pandemic flu preparedness plans at the national, state, and local levels, as well as in the business sector -- and how far we have yet to go to be ready for bird flu.

This year's gathering will examine H5N1 epidemiology and surveillance, pathogenesis and treatment, vaccine development, impact on the health care delivery system, and lessons learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak in Canada. The meeting will also review the national response to seasonal flu in the U.S. -- less-feared than bird flu but currently a cause of greater morbidity and mortality.

"The pace of human H5N1 infections is accelerating but our plans to prepare for bird flu on a massive scale are moving at business-as-usual speed," said Richard Whitley, MD, co-director of the Center for Emerging Infections and Emergency Preparedness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and meeting co-chair.

"We don't want to cause bird flu panic, but we do need to have a sense of urgency as we move forward to respond to this public health challenge of potentially catastrophic proportions."

At a Senate hearing last week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, echoed this concern and urged states to ramp up preparations for bird flu by conducting state-wide simulations of pandemic scenarios.

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