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European preparedness to seasonal flu

on Fri, 10/05/2012 - 11:14

As every year, a new flu season is going to start, and health care professionals and institutions all over the world are preparing themselves to face this annual recurrent epidemic. The first influenza virus for 2012-2013 – a type B virus – has already been identified by the team led by Maria Cristina Medici, from the University of Parma. However, this does not mean that the flu is going to spread early. “Influence is not in advance,” explained the virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco, from the University of Milan. “The early identification of the first virus is a sign of the higher sensitiveness of our detection systems”. This identification also confirmed that this B virus is one of those included in the vaccine. But what is the situation in terms of preparedness, in Europe?

On October 4th, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released a document that discuss advantages and disadvantages of routine vaccination of healthy children and pregnant women with seasonal influenza vaccine. The document is available for free at this address but, aiming to provide Member States and EU bodies with relevant information to make an informed decision on this topic, it is not an easy reading for non-experts. On the website of the regional office for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO) there is a two-page reference document on the key issues for case management of severe disease caused by seasonal influenza. Nevertheless, this document is dated September 2011 and it is the only publication that can be find on the site about that. Also, the vaccination recommendations still refer to the 2011-2012 winter season. A link can be found that redirect to the European influenza surveillance website, where is possible to display updated bulletins of influenza diffusion.

In general, it seems that a coordinated approach at a Community level regarding seasonal flu communication is still missing and that Member States preferred to face this issue individually. However, it is important to note that ECDC and WHO Europe cooperated to improve Community pandemic preparedness plans based on the lesson learnt from the 2009 swine flu pandemic, as explained in a report published in April 2012; one of the topic of this report was to emphasized that pandemic preparedness needs to be built on stronger responses to seasonal influenza.
Regarding seasonal flu preparedness, a good example of efficient and up-to-date communication comes from the US: the portal is a clear and easy-to-surf website which provides basic information about flu and links to further data through the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with an updated page dedicated to seasonal flu, information about vaccine and a list of specific safety questions and answers.

ECDC document on vaccination:
WHO Europe document:
WHO Europe vaccination recommendations:
ECDC-WHO Europe pandemic preparedness report:
CDC seasonal flu page:
CDC seasonal flu vaccination page:
CDC seasonal flu Q&A: