Immunization against secondary bacterial infections could reduce impact of an Avian flu pandemic

US - Immunizations such as Pneumococcal, Meningitis and Haemophilus vaccines may prevent the onset or at least mitigate the severity of potentially fatal secondary infections common in pandemic flu occurrences says Drs. Walter B. Koppel, MD, and Charlie Easmon, MD, at MEDEX Assistance.
calendar icon 22 November 2006
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"Should a pandemic outbreak of Avian flu occur, a vaccine specific to the final strain will take time to develop, manufacture and distribute. Unfortunately, time is in short supply when it comes to pandemics as they spread widely and quickly," explains Dr. Koppel.

"While some treatments are expected to have an impact on combating a pandemic in the short term, historical evidence from past flu pandemics indicate that secondary bacterial infections and not the flu-strain itself were responsible for many pandemic-related fatalities."

Citing a compelling report examining that historical connection written by Dr. John F. Brundage, MD and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors Koppel and Easmon conclude that a regimen of immunizations against these secondary infections could ultimately reduce fatalities.

The Pneumococcal vaccine can prevent pneumonia, meningitis and bacteremia (diseases which attack the lungs, the brain and the blood system respectively) and is routinely prescribed for people over the age of 65 or who are immunosuppressed. Dr. Koppel points out that healthy adults planning travel to Avian flu-prone destinations may also benefit from this vaccine as well as the meningitis (ACWY) and Haemophilus (HIB) vaccines.

"With all the attention being paid to the threat of an Avian flu pandemic that has not yet morphed into extended human-to-human transmission, it is also vitally important that people remember to get a flu shot for the strain that will be going around this season," warns Dr. Koppel.

"Should the Avian flu begin to be transmitted person-to-person, it will be easier to recognize and diagnose in people who have already been immunized to the more conventional flu bug. Since Avian flu diagnosis and treatment must begin within 48-hours of symptoms presenting ... there's not a lot of time to wonder which flu it is."

Nonetheless, Dr. Koppel cautions anyone contemplating these or any vaccinations to first consult with their personal physician.

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