The UK Braces Itself For The Flu Season, Are You Looking Information On The Virus?

December 06, 1998

The International Influenza Education Panel Urges Change

7 December 1998: The newly formed International Influenza Education Panel, a group of eminent experts in the field of influenza infection, believes the time has come to take stock of the way this debilitating, often life-threatening, infection is perceived and managed across the world.

The Panel has come together to campaign for improved prevention strategies and treatment, which are consistent around the globe.

Why the need for change?
It is estimated that influenza affects 10-15 per cent of the world population with annual outbreaks causing substantial illness and even death.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 is said to have killed over 20 million people worldwide - more than the number killed in the First World War. In more recent years, deaths from influenza have not reached this level, but nevertheless large numbers of people can and do die from the consequences of the infection.

There is widespread misunderstanding about influenza and the term is often incorrectly used to describe a nasty cold, other influenza-like illness, or stomach upsets which occur in the winter months. This leads to confusion surrounding influenza (types A and B), which can lead to misdiagnosis, inappropriate treatment, prolonged illness and severe secondary infection or even death in "at risk" individuals.

In addition, when those who are otherwise healthy are infected, influenza and influenza-like illness can be a major problem for businesses across the world. For instance, in the UK, approximately 150 million working days are lost each year - the equivalent of more than a week per person. This is estimated to cost the British economy over six and three quarter billion pounds a year.

Due to the potentially serious nature of influenza, the International Influenza Education Panel believes that it is extremely important to distinguish between influenza and other respiratory infections.

The International Influenza Education Panel consensus
The Panel's views are expressed in the following statement:

"Influenza A or B viruses cause a serious respiratory tract infection with associated symptoms - such as fever, muscular aches, cough and headache - that affect several parts of the body at the same time.

We are all potentially at risk of being 'knocked off our feet' for several days from influenza infection, with complete recovery taking 10 days on average. However, in certain groups of the population, especially the elderly and those with underlying diseases, like asthma or heart and lung disease, influenza is more devastating and can even be fatal.

As with many illnesses, prevention is better than cure and influenza vaccines have helped enormously to control this serious infection. Unfortunately, the use of influenza vaccines is not uniformly high worldwide, even among those most at risk. In addition, vaccines are not 100 per cent effective in preventing influenza - their effectiveness depends on a number of factors, such as the age of the person vaccinated, the state of their immune system and the particular strain of infecting virus. However, all those who are at risk should still be vaccinated on an annual basis to help decrease the likelihood of developing influenza.

The threat of a major influenza epidemic or even pandemic remains real. We should not be complacent about this potentially devastating infection and we urge health care professionals and policy makers worldwide to take action.

There is more that we can and should do. Influenza vaccination, especially for those at risk, should continue to be encouraged and properly funded. New weapons in the fight against influenza are being developed and should help control this infection further. These weapons include a new class of drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors which are currently under development for the prevention and treatment of influenza.

The International Influenza Education Panel calls on all those involved to stop, reassess and take action to minimise the havoc wreaked by influenza."

Who are The International Influenza Education Panel?
The Panel consists of five influenza experts. They are:
• Dr Fred Aoki, Professor of Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Manitoba, Canada
• Professor Arnold Monto, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, USA
• Professor Albert Osterhaus, Professor of Virology, Erasmus University Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
• Professor John Oxford, Professor of Virology at St. Bartholomew's and Royal London School of Medicine, UK
• Professor Chris Silagy, Professor and Head of Department of Evidence-Based Care and General Practice, Flinders University, South Australia

What is the objective of the Panel?
The Panel's objective is to ensure a clearer appreciation of the high levels of illness and death associated with influenza and to promote improved diagnosis and control of this infection across the world.

How are the Panel getting their message across?
The Panel is launching its own website, http://www.influenzanews.com, on Monday, 7 December 1998.

This website is aimed primarily at the general public. It is packed full of useful information which could also be used in influenza news and feature articles.
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International Influenza Education Panel interviews Members of the Panel are available for interviews regarding this consensus statement and other influenza information.

The International Influenza Education Panel website will go live on 7 December and can be found at: http://www.influenzanews.com.
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CPR Worldwide

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