Media Briefing: Influenza A (H1N1)
(Conducted by Dr. Jon K. Andrus, Pan American Health Organization, May 13, 2009)

Media Briefing: Influenza A (H1N1)
(Conducted by Dr. Jon K. Andrus, Pan American Health Organization, May 13, 2009)

Good afternoon. Welcome again to members of the press corps on the line, and thank you for taking the time to listen to today's briefing by the Pan American Health Organization on the Influenza A (H1N1) epidemic.
  • To date, PAHO and WHO has mobilized 29 experts to provide support to health authorities in Mexico. PAHO and WHO are also providing antiviral drugs-oseltamivir-to our Member Countries.

  • In addition, PAHO has just mobilized a team of experts to work with our member countries in Central America, where three countries currently have cases of Influenza A(H1N1).

  • This team will help the countries strengthen their efforts in surveillance, laboratory procedures, infection control and clinical management of patients suspected of having Influenza A(H1N1).

  • We are also helping Central America get the necessary laboratory supplies, personal protective equipment, and, as I mentioned earlier, antiviral drugs.

  • All the this work has been a team effort with help from our colleagues in WHO, CDC, and Public Health Canada.

  • For countries where the virus has not yet been reported, PAHO has provided some detailed guidelines for healthcare facilities to follow to get better prepared. The guidelines recommend, for example, activating hospital emergency committees, boosting infection control procedures, setting up triage areas adjacent to but not part of hospitals to deal with what will be a potential surge increase in cases, and giving hospital workers special training in the use of special protective gear. These kinds of preparations are essential as the virus spreads to other countries.

  • Recent reports published in the scientific literature are confirming some of our initial impressions about this outbreak.

  • Findings suggest that the spread of the epidemic has been relatively rapid, more rapid than the regular seasonal influenza. We are also beginning to see more evidence of asymptomatic infections or patients with relatively few or no symptoms.

  • The findings also suggest the H1N1 virus may be more contagious than seasonal influenza.

  • Having said that though, we do not want to diminish the importance of mitigating the risks of seasonal influenza. Each year seasonal influenza causes substantial morbidity and mortality. So, southern countries about to enter their winter seasons need to complete their seasonal vaccination strategies as soon as possible.

  • We know that the H1N1 virus tends to cause more severe infections in people with underlying health conditions.

  • Outside Mexico, nearly all deaths that have occurred have been in people with underlying chronic medical conditions.

  • We need to be especially concerned for persons at risk for complications, such as pregnant women and people with chronic disease. Our surveillance and monitoring activities need to identify infections in such groups early, so they can receive early and effective care and treatment to prevent complications.

  • Overall, the complete story on the severity of this disease is yet to be determined and it continues to evolve.

  • We certainly know that it is not nearly as high as seen in the 1918 pandemic where globally 40 million people died.

  • Some data suggests that the severity of this particular outbreak may be comparable to other pandemics experienced globally, such as the one in 1968. But, we need to keep reminding ourselves that it is still too early to make definitive conclusions.

  • We are experiencing a new virus. Because it is a new disease, we have no prior protective immunity.

  • All this information supports our early calls for countries to the south to be adequately prepared and to start implementing their emergency response plans.

  • PAHO and WHO are also going to be releasing soon updated guidelines for clinical management of patients who are suspected of having Influenza A(H1N1) infection.

  • Perhaps most importantly, we continue to call upon individuals and their families to take the necessary precautions to diminish the risk of infection. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, wash your hands frequently, if you are sick stay home from work and school and postpone travel until you are well.

  • Again, we cannot be sure how this situation is going to evolve, so let's remain focused on being as prepared as possible.

  • I am going to stop there to field any questions that you may have.

(You can watch this media briefing on PAHO's Webcasts Page)