WHO’s campaign to curb bird flu

Kathmandu, March 9:

In order to tackle avian influenza jointly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is formulating an operational plan to contain an initial outbreak of human pandemic influenza.

According to the World Health Organisation, the plan is in the last stage after 70 public health experts concluded a three-day discussion on the matter in Geneva yesterday.

“A human influenza pandemic will be a big problem, but by working together we can respond effectively,” said Dr Margaret Chan, World Health Organisation’s assistant director-general for communicable diseases and the director-general’s representative for pandemic influenza in a press release today.

Concept papers indicated that preventing a pandemic at its source required coordinated action focused on a small area within days of the emergence of the new virus. Success factors include early detection of the new virus, swift mobilisation of resources, and compliance by the target population.

The meeting focused on three areas: Logistics, surveillance and public health measures needed to accomplish these goals.

“It may be that containment efforts would only slow the spread of a pandemic,” said Dr Chan.

“But even that will buy us time so that countries can begin activating their pandemic preparedness plans and companies can begin on the lengthy process of manufacturing an effective human pandemic vaccine.”

According to a press release issued here today by the WHO, seasonal influenza, avian influenza and human pandemic influenza are different diseases.

Seasonal flu occurs commonly and causes illness, which ranges from mild to severe depending on pre-existing illness. Avian influenza is an animal disease which, very rarely, infects humans.

A human influenza pandemic is caused by a virus new to humans and, historically, the impact of such pandemics has ranged from mild to severe. The world is not experiencing a pandemic now. The current outbreak of avian influenza is caused by the virus H5N1. It is being closely monitored because, theoretically, H5N1 may mutate to become easily transmissible between humans. This would spark a human influenza pandemic.

Although containing a pandemic at its source has never been tried, evidence suggesting that it may be possible has been mounting. The containment of SARS in 2003 demonstrated that coordinated global action could stop the emergence of a new infectious disease.