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Pandemic Could Overwhelm Pacific Island Countries

Wednesday, 23 February 2005*

*Influenza pandemic could overwhelm Pacific Island Countries* /*More international support needed*/

New Zealand public health researchers are calling for international help for Pacific Island countries to prepare for a likely influenza pandemic, which would overwhelm medical facilities and cause a high number of deaths.

Writing in the international journal /Emerging Infectious Diseases/, Dr Nick Wilson and three other public health colleagues say that a future influenza pandemic is likely, if not inevitable.

Dr Wilson says the researchers used a model called FluAid to look at the effect of an eight-week pandemic on Pacific countries and found that influenza could cause up to 1,530 deaths. Dr Wilson says up to 8,250 people would be hospitalised and there would be up to 563,000 medical consultations.

“The predicted range of hospitalisations attributable to pandemic influenza would likely overwhelm current hospital capacity in many Pacific Island countries.”

The authors are recommending Pacific countries organise contingency plans to deal with any pandemic. Dr Wilson says the World Health Organization should provide additional planning and capacity building. He says neighbouring countries and agencies should also provide support to improve surveillance and other preventive measures.

“New Zealand is well placed for this as it is one of the few countries to have undertaken pandemic planning exercises.”

Dr Wilson says the 1918 influenza pandemic killed substantial proportions of the total population of Pacific countries with up to 22 percent of the population of Samoa dying in that pandemic. He says researchers can make approximate estimates about the effect of a pandemic but it is hard to predict precisely how virulent a new strain of influenza virus will be.

For more information: Dr Nick Wilson, Senior Lecturer (Public health), Wellington School of Medicine & Health Sciences, Otago University, phone 021 204 5523

Online link in the February 2005 issue of “Emerging Infectious Diseases” Journal at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol11no02/04-0951.htm

T/he Public Health Association of New Zealand is a non-party political voluntary association, which provides a major forum for the exchange of information and stimulation of debate about public health in New Zealand./

ENDS

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