Bird Flu Alarm

Understanding Avian Influenza

Can a pandemic be prevented?

Can a pandemic be prevented?

No one knows with certainty. The best way to prevent a pandemic would be to eliminate the virus from birds, but it has become increasingly doubtful if this can be achieved within the near future.

Following a donation by industry, WHO will have a stockpile of antiviral medications, sufficient for 3 million treatment courses, by early 2006. Recent studies, based on mathematical modelling, suggest that these drugs could be used prophylactically near the start of a pandemic to reduce the risk that a fully transmissible virus will emerge or at least to delay its international spread, thus gaining time to augment vaccine supplies.

The success of this strategy, which has never been tested, depends on several assumptions about the early behaviour of a pandemic virus, which cannot be known in advance. Success also depends on excellent surveillance and logistics capacity in the initially affected areas, combined with an ability to enforce movement restrictions in and out of the affected area. To increase the likelihood that early intervention using the WHO rapid-intervention stockpile of antiviral drugs will be successful, surveillance in affected countries needs to improve, particularly concerning the capacity to detect clusters of cases closely related in time and place.