U.S. health expert: Flu pandemic is like earthquake

A flu pandemic is like waiting for an earthquake along the San Andreas fault: It's just a matter of time before the next big one strikes, a U.S. health expert said Tuesday.

More research must be conducted in Asian countries and changes in the H5N1 bird flu virus must be closely monitored to try to prepare for a potential flu pandemic that could kill millions, said Dr. Roger Glass, the new Fogarty International Center director and associate director of U.S. National Institutes of Health for international programs.

"I think of it as the earthquake in San Francisco, you know it's on the fault, you know it's going to occur but you can't tell if it's going to occur this year or next year or the year after," he said on the sidelines of a health conference in Beijing. "But it's clearly going to happen and the only way you can prepare is to build your houses with structure."

Glass said vaccine research and strong global collaboration are also essential along with increased surveillance and better diagnostics. He also stressed the need for investment in information systems to keep the public informed about the importance of all public health issues affecting them, not just emerging infectious diseases like SARS and bird flu.

"We've been involved in a number of settings where because of the lack of info, rumors get spread, misinformation becomes a real problem and in the absence of surveillance mechanism and diagnostic capability, you really don't know what you're dealing with," Glass said during a four-day conference launching the Disease Control Priorities Project.

"Fear is a greater problem than the price of having an answer or a way to investigate it or a surveillance system in place that can give important answers," he said, reports the AP.


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