Next flu pandemic: What to do until the vaccine arrives?

November 10, 2006

Experts believe the world is overdue for influenza pandemic. However, unless effective action against pandemic flu is taken now, we are in "dire straits," according to a paper published in the November 10 issue of Science. The articled titled, "Next Flu Pandemic: What to Do Until the Vaccine Arrives?," calls for research during the regular season flu season to better understand the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand washing, face masks, and the like.

"These are ironically similar to the measures used in 1918 to combat the greatest of all known influenza pandemics, but there's a lot we don't know about what may very well be our best defenses," says lead author Stephen Morse, PhD, associate professor of Clinical Epidemiology in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. According to Dr. Morse, unfortunately, there are no readily accessible compendia of best practices or even comprehensive databases of community epidemiologic data, which might help to design the most effective interventions. "As the weather turns cold and the regular flu season is upon us, there is an opportunity to prepare and move ahead with community studies and clinical trials in humans."

How influenza is transmitted, from person to person, whether by large droplets or by fine particles, may seem to be a specialist issue, observes Dr. Morse, but "it has a direct bearing on how far apart people should position themselves to prevent infection and on whether inexpensive face masks might be useful."

Dr. Morse's coauthors are Richard L. Garwin, PhD, IBM Research Laboratories and Paula J. Olsiewski, PhD, of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This spring, the authors organized a workshop on personal and workplace protective measures for pandemic influenza held at the Mailman School of Public Health and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

"There are many basic things we don't know about how influenza is transmitted," said Dr. Garwin of IBM. "For example, it appears that a relatively low number of people catch the flu from another person. Breaking the transmission chain with non-pharmacological measures has proved challenging, but the prize is enormous."

Often also neglected, according to the authors, are protective measures that fall between individual protection and the whole population -- "the excluded middle"-- such as buildings, facilities and smaller areas such as work places and homes. Examples might include improved air-handling systems, room-size fans, portable air-filtration systems, or physical barriers such as room dividers and doors.

"We should systematically address knowledge gaps now during upcoming flu seasons rather than wait to empirically test measures ad hoc when the next pandemic is upon us," says Dr. Morse.

Source: Columbia University

Explore further: Smart thermometer improves flu forecasting

Related Stories

Smart thermometer improves flu forecasting

February 8, 2018
When a flu season is more severe than expected—like this year's—the surge of patients can overwhelm clinics, emergency rooms, and hospitals.

Researchers confirm link between flu and heart attack

January 24, 2018
Chances of a heart attack are increased six-fold during the first seven days after detection of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences ...

Study: Rigorous hand hygiene-intervention practices can lower mortality, antibiotic prescription rates in nursing homes

February 14, 2018
Infection prevention practices centered on hand hygiene (HH) protocols can save lives across all healthcare facilities, not just hospital settings. This includes nursing homes, according to a new study published in the February ...

Research paves the way for the development of vaccines for emerging viruses

January 31, 2018
The search for vaccines, treatments and preventive methods against infection by emerging viruses is one of the major challenges of global epidemiology. New pathological agents continue to emerge, such as the arbovirus transmitted ...

Flu infection study increases understanding of natural immunity

January 23, 2018
People with higher levels of antibodies against the stem portion of the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) protein have less viral shedding when they get the flu, but do not have fewer or less severe signs of illness, according ...

Firm advances human trials of revolutionary vaccine

January 18, 2018
Amid predictions that this year's flu vaccine will offer limited protection, medical researchers are renewing their focus on a universal flu vaccine.

Recommended for you

Sweet, bitter, fat: New study reveals impact of genetics on how kids snack

February 22, 2018
Whether your child asks for crackers, cookies or veggies to snack on could be linked to genetics, according to new findings from the Guelph Family Health Study at the University of Guelph.

The good and bad health news about your exercise posts on social media

February 22, 2018
We all have that Facebook friend—or 10—who regularly posts photos of his or her fitness pursuits: on the elliptical at the gym, hiking through the wilderness, crossing a 10K finish line.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Tackling health problems in the young is crucial for their children's future

February 21, 2018
A child's growth and development is affected by the health and lifestyles of their parents before pregnancy - even going back to adolescence - according to a new study by researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, ...

Lead and other toxic metals found in e-cigarette 'vapors': study

February 21, 2018
Significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead, leak from some e-cigarette heating coils and are present in the aerosols inhaled by users, according to a study from scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public ...

Why teens need up to 10 hours' sleep

February 21, 2018
Technology, other distractions and staying up late make is difficult, but researchers say teenagers need to make time for 8-10 hours of sleep a night to optimise their performance and maintain good health and wellbeing.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.