Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Some Sage Advice From The WHO


Twitter messages by WHO Spokesperson Gregory Hartl  10/16/13


# 7865


Yesterday’s announced H7N9 case in China – the first in two months – was hardly an unexpected development, as many public health agencies and organizations have openly discussed the likelihood of seeing new cases throughout the summer. 


It’s the reason that last week Hong Kong: held an Avian Influenza Drill, and that in late September we saw the following advice to hospitals from the Chinese CDC: Be Alert For H7N9.

In August, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Agency warned of the likely return of the virus (see FAO Warns On Bird Flu), and last week, in the World Health Organization’s   Influenza at the human-animal interface Summary and assessment, issued the following statement regarding H7N9:


Sporadic human cases and small clusters would not be unexpected in previously affected and possibly neighboring areas/countries of China


The big surprise this fall and winter would be for the virus to fail to return.  


Not unprecedented, of course.  The 1976 H1N1 swine flu pulled a disappearing act over the summer, never to be heard from again (see Deja Flu, All Over Again), as did the 1951 `Liverpool Flu’ (see Sometimes . . . Out Of The Blue).

Influenza is predictably unpredictable.


It is likely, however, that as cooler weather spread across the northern hemisphere, we will begin to see more cases of H7N9 . . . and probably H5N1 as well.  Add to that mix a smattering of MERS coronavirus cases  in the Middle East, and infuse that with our yearly seasonal flu epidemic . . .  and well, things are likely to get a bit hectic over the next few months.


AFD (and many others) will be watching, and reporting on the events of this upcoming flu season.  Those who were not closely following  the rollercoaster ride of 2006-2008 with H5N1, or the opening days of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic - when case reports were flying off the wires at breakneck speed - might find themselves a bit overwhelmed by the, at times, frenetic pace.


This year, admittedly, we are watching more novel disease fronts than usual.  But thus far none of these novel viruses has shown an ability to spread efficiently from human to human.  And we don’t know when, or even if, that might happen.


I think Crof was the one who originally said it,  but as long as we are able keep some kind of reasonable track of the cases, it’s a pretty good sign that things have not spun out of control.


The advice from the WHO today - that we should not be surprised to see more H7N9 cases - is not only good counsel, it is another example of the WHO getting out in front of an issue, and using social media to spread the word.   


And it’s one that I’m more than happy to pass along.

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