New Bird Flu Strain and Film “Contagion” Serve as Reminders for Pandemic Planning

Washing hands

The release of the film “Contagion” last week coupled with the recent FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) notification of a troubling strain of bird flu (H5N1) has put pandemic planning back in the forefront.

International SOS hosted a webinar to discuss the potential implications of the new bird flu strain and steps organizations should take to protect their people and ensure business continuity.

I was joined by my colleague in London, John Oxford, PhD, Scientific Director of Retroscreen Virology, Ltd. and Professor of Virology at St. Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital, Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, for this important webinar.

The H5N1 virus strain is not fully prevented by current poultry vaccines and has sparked worry that there will be a significant increase in the number of poultry outbreaks, potentially causing an uptick in human cases.  “Vaccines have worked well up to now,” said Professor Oxford. “But we have hit a hitch. We should not be complacent.” This probable increase in poultry outbreaks may also increase the chance that bird flu (H5N1) will mutate and become able from human to human, causing the next pandemic.

Real and cinematic scenarios alike have prompted some organizations to reconsider and revamp their plans and procedures for infectious disease outbreaks affecting communities and employees on a global scale.

The FAO said that the new bird flu (H5N1) strain may spread to Thailand, Cambodia, the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Prof. Oxford said travelers and expatriates in affected countries should exercise caution by remaining away from live poultry markets and increasing hygiene. Those who may have been exposed to bird flu (H5N1) and develop severe respiratory infections should seek medical attention and possibly be treated with an antiviral drug.

Check out the webinar presentation, read the executive briefing or learn more about pandemic planning.  Join the discussion here.

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