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The Scientific Response to a Pandemic

Gigi Kwik Gronvall, Richard E. Waldhorn, D. A. Henderson
Date posted:
February 24, 2006
Publication type:

PLoS Pathog 2006;2(2):e9 

Public Library of Science
Available on publisher's website
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Full article as PDF

Tomorrow, the world could face a pandemic. It could be due to H5N1 avian influenza—experts warn that it is just a matter of time—or a different influenza strain, an unknown pathogen, or a bioterrorist attack. In all cases, biological scientists face the challenge of characterizing the pathogen and determining how to control it. Their scientific judgments and public statements will shape the global pandemic response. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, scientists generated information that influenced everything from medical treatments to travel restrictions, trade policy, and political decisions. Given the importance of getting scientific information out into the world, scientists should consider now how they will respond and communicate in the setting of the next pandemic.

In hopes of sparking that discussion, the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center organized an International Conference on Biosafety and Biorisks in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response Office in 2005. More than 150 scientists and public health practitioners from 25 countries gathered in Lyon, France, to hear speakers from the WHO, the European Commission, scientific journals, Interpol, and public health networks—many of the institutions and individuals who will likely play key roles in the global response to the next pandemic. By discussing the biosafety and biosecurity challenges presented by past epidemics such as SARS, participants recognized the importance of scientific and public health collaboration in combating disease—and the need to plan.

Each epidemic is different, and will have its own scientific and political dimensions that make planning difficult. However, based on past epidemics, there are some likely patterns. Researchers will need to share biological samples between laboratories, sometimes internationally; decision makers and journalists will want the latest information, which may not be peer reviewed; and researchers will risk contracting the disease they research, which could then spread outside of the laboratory. Scientists need to harmonize and modernize standards and training in these areas, to help make their response to a pandemic prompt, accurate, and safe.

Full article as PDF



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