Scientists Warn We Are Closer Than Ever to the Next Influenza Pandemic

LONDON -- The world is poorly prepared to fight the next influenza pandemic, with the window of opportunity to prepare narrowing, according to a review of the current status of pandemic planning published in this month's Lancet Infectious Diseases.(1) The paper issues a call to action for governments to accelerate pandemic planning and to ensure that scientific advances of the past decades, in particular new antiviral therapies, are

maximized by assembling adequate stockpiles before the pandemic hits.


Today's warning is particularly relevant since influenza experts believe

that two of the three widely-accepted criteria for an influenza pandemic have

been met by the current H5N1 avian influenza outbreak in east Asia; firstly, a

new influenza virus strain has emerged, and secondly, the virus has spread to

humans. The last barrier will be the transmission of the virus from human to



"The tsunami tragedy in Asia demonstrated the consequences of inadequate

preparation for a global crisis. Whilst experts agree that over one million

people could lose their lives in the next influenza pandemic, only about a

dozen countries have pandemic plans in place, and even fewer of these have

stockpiles of antivirals assembled," comments professor Oxford, Barts and The

London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK and author

of today's commentary. "It is critical that governments use this window of

opportunity to plan for the pandemic and to establish stockpiles of antivirals

such as oseltamivir to manage influenza in the first wave of a pandemic,

whilst a vaccine is developed. Time is running out."


The stockpiling of antivirals was recommended by the World Health

Organisation (WHO) as part of its Pandemic Preparedness Plan in 1999,(2) a

guideline to assist governments with their national pandemic planning. The WHO

and influenza experts have been working with governments over the last six

years to ensure that detailed pandemic plans, including arrangements for

surveillance and reporting of the spread of the virus, communications with

physicians and the public, deployment of healthcare resources and the

availability and distribution of treatments to fight the virus, are in place.


"We are faced with an almost inevitable public health crisis, but are in a

strong position to prepare, since we know more about the influenza virus than

ever before and we have the therapies available to fight it. However,

governments must act quickly to prepare in good time to minimise the effects

of the pandemic," concludes Professor Oxford.


Established 12 years ago, Retro Screen Virology is a biotechnology company

affiliated to Queen Mary, University of London. Employing 20 people,

RetroScreen specialises in laboratory and clinic-based respiratory virology



Queen Mary is the fourth largest of the Colleges of the University of

London. Its roots lie in four historic colleges: Queen Mary College, Westfield

College, St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College and the London Hospital

Medical College.




    (1) Oxford, J; Preparing for the first influenza pandemic of the 1st

        century. Lancet (Reference to be completed on publication)




Source:  Retroscreen Virology Ltd; Queen Mary, University of