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H1N1 (Swine Flu): So How Are We Doing? An Evaluation of US Preparations for the Fall Flu Season

August 24, 2009

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers released a new report today assessing the Obama Administration’s preparations for this fall’s expected second wave of 2009-H1N1 flu.  The report also outlined key steps officials can take in the coming weeks to minimize the impact of the pandemic on the nation.

Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President

Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President

The report is a good read and is favorable about the Federal Government’s preparations for 2009-H1N1 flu.  It found that the flu planning effort has been well-organized and scientifically grounded. That is comforting to hear! PCAST assembled a subcommittee of experts on influenza and public health for the this review. PCAST also felt that some aspects of the preparations could and should be improved or accelerated.

H1N1 A Serious Health Threat

The report concludes that the 2009-H1N1 flu is unlikely to resemble the deadly flu pandemic of 1918-19. But in contrast to the benign version of H1N1 that emerged in 1976, the report says the current strain “poses a serious health threat” to the nation. The issue is not that the virus is more deadly than other flu strains, but rather that it is likely to infect more people than usual because it is a new strain against which few people have immunity. The strain to the health care system could be very significant.

PCAST’s Prime Recommendations

PCAST’s prime recommendations include:

  1. Accelerate the preparation of flu vaccine for distribution to high-risk individuals;
  2. Clarify guidelines for the use of antiviral medicines;
  3. Upgrade the current system for tracking the pandemic’s progress and making resource allocation decisions;
  4. Accelerate the development of communication strategies—including Web-based social networking tools—to broadcast public health messages that can help mitigate the pandemic’s impact;
  5. Identify a White House point person with primary authority to coordinate key decisions across the government as the pandemic evolves.

Flu Prevention is NOT Rocket Science

The big message of the report – well, don’t be too surprised – it has to do with you! Our behavior will make all of the different. Yes, you guessed it!

  • Frequent hand-washing
  • Stay home from school or work when sick

The report recommends intensive public education campaigns to reinforce those key behaviors, and also calls for policy adjustments that can reduce economic and other incentives that might encourage people to risk infecting others. For example, workplaces could liberalize rules for absenteeism so employees don’t feel pressured to come to work when sick and school districts could arrange alternative means of distributing lunches to children who are sick but who normally depend on school meals for adequate nourishment.

All common sense stuff – but after all, flu prevention is not rocket science, it is just good plain old common sense!

For a PDF copy of the Report click on http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/PCAST_H1N1_Report.pdf

For a PDF copy of the Recommendations click on

http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/PCAST_Recommendations_and_Administration_Progress.pdf

PCAST is an independent group of leading scientists from academia and industry administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President. To learn more about PCAST http://www.ostp.gov/cs/pcast

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