WHO: World is better prepared for next flu pandemic
MANILA, Philippines – Amid the rise of novel influenza strains and continuing cases of bird flu infections in humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the world is "better prepared for an influenza pandemic."
"The level of alert is high, supported by elevated virological surveillance in both human and animal populations,” the UN health agency said in an essay published on its website.
Since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic – the first in the 21st century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – more national laboratories can now conduct early detection, isolation, and characterization of viruses, WHO said.
The Pandemic Influenza Preparedness framework also took effect in May 2011, allowing for an increased access of developing nations to vaccines and other medical products needed in case of an influenza pandemic.
More antiviral medicines (peramivir, laninamivir, oseltamivir and zanamivir) are now available to treat influenza and to prevent infection from getting worse. Experts also have more substantial safety and immunogenicity data on pandemic vaccines.
Still, WHO urged countries to closely monitor the current global influenza situation, with trends such as:
- Increase in the variety of animal influenza viruses co-circulating and exchanging genetic material, giving rise to novel strains
- Continuing cases of human H7N9 infections in China
- Recent spurt of human H5N1 cases in Egypt
- Changes in the H3N2 seasonal influenza viruses, which have affected the protection conferred by the current vaccine
Countries that have reported human cases of avian flu already have mechanisms in place, but just the same, WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System network is also closely monitoring influenza viruses with "pandemic potential."
"Ways are being found to shorten the time between the emergence of a pandemic virus and the availability of safe and effective vaccines," WHO said.
With surveillance and preparedness, as well as technological advances in vaccine production, the time can be shortened to 3 to 4 months. Candidate vaccine viruses can also be produced in about two weeks after the detection of a pandemic.
According to WHO, it will be an asset for nations to put in place rapid response mechanisms since the world "remains highly vulnerable" to an influenza pandemic, moreso one that causes severe disease.
"Nothing about influenza is predictable, including where the next pandemic might emerge and which virus might be responsible. The world was fortunate that the 2009 pandemic was relatively mild, but such good fortune is no precedent," the UN agency warned.
WHO urged countries, especially developing ones, to continue preparing their health systems for an influenza pandemic.
This means putting in place a well-developed laboratory system, enough hospital workers and hospital beds, adequate storage and delivery channels, and the capacity to quickly serve a large number of patients in all age groups.
In 2014, about $17 million was provided to the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness framework to help empower countries.
Virological research must "continue at an accelerated pace," WHO said, toward developing better vaccines, and shortening their production time to save lives in the event of a severe pandemic.
"An influenza pandemic is the most global of infectious disease events currently known. It is in every country’s best interests to prepare for this threat with equally global solidarity," WHO said. – Rappler.com
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