Volume 2, Number 1—January 1996
News and Notes
International Conference Addresses Preparedness for Emerging Strains of Pandemic Influenza
An international meeting on pertinent issues related to recognizing, identifying, and controlling newly emerging strains of pandemic influenza was held in Bethesda, Maryland, December 11–13, 1995. The conference, "Pandemic Influenza: Confronting a Reemergent Threat," was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the University of Michigan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Medical Science Program, and the World Health Organization.
Epidemic strains of influenza cause infections almost every year throughout the world because of continuous minor genetic changes in the virus. However, periodically a major change occurs, such as reassortment between mammalian and avian strains of the virus. These pandemic strains are novel to the human immune system and, therefore, can cause substantial disease worldwide. The conference concentrated on issues that would be crucial to controlling an influenza pandemic.
Plenary and workshop sessions examined the following topics: Can pandemics be predicted? What are the specific approaches for pandemic control? What are the advantages and limitations of vaccines and antiviral agents? The workshops also focused on factors contributing to the emergence of pandemic strains and various aspects of surveillance, such as the adequacy of current global surveillance structure for early identification of a pandemic strain, the use of virologic and epidemiologic surveillance once a strain is identified, and the rapid exchange of information globally. The following immunologic and molecular questions were addressed as well: What basic research advances would allow us to respond more rapidly after the next human pandemic strain is detected? Is the presence of novel influenza A virus in pigs a predictor of the next influenza pandemic? Is an H2 influenza virus the next human pandemic subtype or are H7 viruses equally possible? Also discussed were the practical issues of vaccine needs, production, and distribution.
Conference participants then reviewed international pandemic plans and the U.S. pandemic plan being prepared by the Federal Interagency Group on Pandemic Preparedness.