PR No.40 Influenza Awareness Seminar Islamabad

A seminar on Influenza awareness was organized by National Institute of Health for healthcare professionals. Talking on this occasion the Executive Director NIH Dr. Farnaz Malik said that “Influenza viruses are a common cause of acute respiratory illnesses especially during the winter season. Since 2010 H1N1 influenza virus has moved into the post-pandemic period with the potential for local outbreaks. Since then regional outbreaks are reported in different parts of the world”.

Pakistan is also experiencing influenza epidemic since Nov 2015, some parts of including Punjab, KPK and Federal Capital are experiencing Influenza like illness. She told that till 3rd February 2016, NIH has received more than 1056 samples out of which only 241 influenza A/H1N1 pdm09 have been confirmed and large percentages were from Punjab”.

Regarding the role of NIH, and Ministry of NHSR&C she told that “regular advisories regarding prevention, control, diagnosis and management of influenza are being issued by NIH and ministry. Seasonal Awareness and Alert Letters (SAAL) is also circulated for sensitizing against epidemic prone disease including Influenza. Updated guidelines have also been posted on website”. NIH has also established of free of cost Influenza molecular diagnostic facilities at Virology Department.

The US CDC Resident Advisor of FELTP Pakistan Dr. Rana Jawad Asghar, briefed the audience on global perspective of Influenza and the highlighted the epidemiology of seasonal Influenza and emergence of pandemic influenza viruses. He said “Swine and animal origin Influenza transmits to humans rarely and every year there are cases of seasonal influenza to which the people have some previous immunity. However, when novel influenza viruses emerge, humans lack defense mechanism or immunity and the infections occur in all age groups including young healthy adults”. He further elaborated on the latest report on the global influenza situation showing that over 80% of the viruses detected during the previous few weeks were Influenza A mainly H1N1 (Pdm09) and emphasized that this trend has been reflected in various regions globally . He clarified that the currently circulating A/H1N1 virus is not ‘Swine Influenza’ but is a seasonal influenza virus.

Dr. Uzma Bashir, who is a senior virologist at NIH, elaborated on virological characteristics of Influenza viruses and informed the audience that there are three major Influenza types A, B, and C. Among these, influenza A is more significant as it is found in many animal species besides humans and therefore there are increased chances for emergence of novel subtypes as evidenced by Influenza pandemics during the last century. She told that as Influenza is an RNA virus that undergoes antigenic drift changes every year, a number seasonal influenza cases occur during every fall/winter seasons. The point of concern is when the genetic material gets exchanged between different strains; a phenomenon called antigenic shift which causes emergence of new /novel subtypes which threaten to cause pandemics. She informed the audience that NIH has supported established of a country wide laboratory based seasonal influenza surveillance network at seven sites across Pakistan which can provide baseline knowledge on circulating influenza viruses in the country and provide support for laboratory detection of novel infleunza strains when they emerge. She said “we need to monitor changes” and NIH is participating in the global influenza surveillance and response system of WHO and weekly data is uploaded on the FluNet system which is available in the public domain. She also verified that the current currently circulating influenza viruses in Pakistan match closely with the annual influenza vaccine for 2015-16 which is also widely available in the country.

Dr. Mumtaz Ali Khan, from NIH briefed about control and preventive strategies and emphasized on everyday practice like hand washing, cough etiquettes and use of disinfectants for the prevention in influenza virus. He also explained about the high risk groups, availability and use of anti-viral medicines and recommendations for the use of vaccination. Towards the end, an interactive questions answer session with the audience was also held.