Friday, July 27, 2007

U.S., global health workers on lookout for deadliest infectious diseases

The United States is joining countries around the world in being on high alert for some of the globe’s most deadly infectious diseases.

Under new International Health Regulations created by the World Health Organization, the United States is working through its state and local reporting networks to identify, respond to and share information about public health emergencies of international concern. The regulations took effect in the United States July 18.

The regulations call on WHO member countries — which include the United States — to report disease outbreaks and other public health events that have an international impact. Specifically, the new regulations add four diseases — smallpox, polio, severe acute respiratory syndrome — to the list of those that must be immediately reported to WHO.

“Today’s world of rapid air travel, international migration, emerging diseases, threats of terrorism and the potential threat of an influenza pandemic underscore the importance of the International Health Regulations,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt.

The emergence of SARS in 2003 demonstrated “as no previous disease outbreak ever had” how interconnected the world has become and how rapidly a new disease can spread, according to WHO. SARS served as a wake-up call for global health officials, said Margaret Chan, MD, WHO director-general, but isn’t the main concern today.

"Today, the greatest threat to international public health security would be an influenza pandemic,” said Chan in June, when the International Health Regulations came into force. “The threat of a pandemic has not receded, but implementation of the (regulations) will help the world to be better prepared for the possibility of a pandemic."

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