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WHO Says Pandemic is Over—Now What?

August 24, 2010

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While good news, it does not mean that the H1N1 flu virus has disappeared, only that its behavior is becoming more like seasonal influenza. During this post-pandemic period, the WHO says that it is important not to let our guard down, especially for those who were more affected by this strain (young children, pregnant women and individuals with chronic health conditions). For those of us in the respiratory care profession, that is especially relevant.

The AARC interviewed Michael R Anderson, MD FAAP, Vice President and Associate Chief Medical Officer at University Hospitals in Cleveland, OH, for his initial response to this new development. “Clinicians need to remain vigilant much like our CDC colleagues do in Atlanta to really be aware of any patterns in the flu as the fall and winter roll in. We did a wonderful job of vaccinating mass amounts of health care workers and patients and we certainly dusted off our pandemic plans and our surge plans. But I think it’s up to respiratory therapy professionals, physicians and nurses alike to remain vigilant for what is possibly the next pandemic, says Dr. Anderson.

With a primary obligation to stay healthy ourselves so that we can be there to take care of patients, vaccines for all health care workers who provide direct patient care are strongly recommended. And, of course, as respiratory care professionals, we have a special responsibility to reassure and educate our patients, particularly those at high risk.

Dr. Anderson encourages us to look toward the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for their recommendations as we approach the flu season this fall. When asked about the impact of the change in pandemic status on patients, Dr. Anderson replied that “Patients should trust their care providers and talk to them before flu season. We know this year that the federal government plans on having H1N1 as part of the routine flu vaccine, but I think it’s important for patients to talk to their doctors about whether they should get a flu shot and find out if they are in one of those high-risk groups that the CDC has identified as requiring vaccination year after year.”

Dr. Anderson had another key message for AARC members. “Think outside just the surge issues and the pandemic issues. If you look at Hurricane Katrina and the crisis in Haiti as well as the H1N1 crisis in 2009, it’s important that respiratory therapy professionals get involved in disaster preparedness and disaster response. Are we really as prepared as we should be for a huge flood in the Midwest or an earthquake on the west coast or another hurricane in the gulf region? I think that RTs play such a vital role in patient care that I encourage them to get involved whether it is a local medical reserve corps, planning at the regional level, or some of the national activity that I have been honored to take part in. That is part of the take home message. You know, H1N1 2009 has been declared over, but who knows what that next crisis is that’s coming around the corner. Are we as prepared as we should be?”

For more about the impact of H1N1 (2009) this past year in pediatrics, you may be interested in the AARC Professor’s Rounds topic “Pediatric Respiratory Care: Is There More Than One Right Answer” just released last month on DVD, with Dr. Anderson and Ira Cheifetz, MD FAARC FCCM of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.