Pandemic Influenza

FDA Approves Vaccine for Bird Flu

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the first approval in the United States of a vaccine for humans against the H5N1 influenza virus, commonly known as avian or bird flu.

The vaccine could be used in the event the current H5N1 avian virus were to develop the capability to efficiently spread from human to human, resulting in the rapid spread of the disease across the globe. Should such an influenza pandemic emerge, the vaccine may provide early limited protection in the months before a vaccine tailored to the pandemic strain of the virus could be developed and produced.

The threat of an influenza pandemic is one of the most significant public health issues our nation and world faces, says the FDA, so the approval of this vaccine is an important step. The H5N1 virus is one version of the influenza A virus commonly found in birds. Unlike seasonal influenza, where infection ranges from mild to serious symptoms in most people, the disease caused by H5N1 is far more severe and happens quickly, where pneumonia and multi-organ failure are commonly seen.

While there have been no reported human cases of H5N1 infection in the United States, almost 300 people worldwide have been infected with this virus since 2003 and more than half of them have died. To date, H5N1 influenza has remained primarily an animal disease but should the virus acquire the ability for sustained transmission among humans, people will have little immunity to this virus and the potential for an influenza pandemic would have grave consequences for global public health, says the FDA.

The manufacturer, sanofi pasteur Inc., will not sell the vaccine commercially. Instead, the vaccine has been purchased by the federal government for inclusion within the National Stockpile for distribution by public health officials if needed. The vaccine will be manufactured at sanofi pasteur’s Swiftwater, PA, facility.

For more information on the government’s preparedness efforts, go to http://www.pandemicflu.gov/.

Pandemic Flu Guidance

OSHA has published new workplace safety and health guidance on preparing workplaces for an influenza pandemic.

The agency offers general guidance for all types of workplaces, describes the differences between seasonal, avian and pandemic influenza, and presents information on the nature of a potential pandemic, how the virus is likely to spread, and how exposure is likely to occur.

To help employers determine appropriate workplace practices and precautions, the guidance divides workplaces and work operations into four risk zones, according to the likelihood of employees’ occupational exposure to pandemic influenza. Recommendations for employee protection are presented for each of the four levels of anticipated risk and include engineering controls, work practices and use of personal protective equipment such as respirators and surgical masks and their relative value in protecting employees.

The guidance also encourages employers to prepare a plan to deal with a depleted workforce during a pandemic.


Pandemic Influenza Resources

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