Press Release

National Pandemic Influenza Plan and Advice for Pandemic Influenza Published

The Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive (HSE) today (15th January 2007) published the National Pandemic Influenza Plan and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness for Ireland – Advice of the Pandemic Influenza Expert Group.

A pandemic influenza is a worldwide flu epidemic. The risk of pandemic influenza is serious. Experts believe that future pandemics are inevitable, but agree that it is difficult to predict the timing, source and impact of the next pandemic.  Planning is critical in order to limit the effects of a potential pandemic.

Mary Harney T.D, Minister for Health and Children, welcomed the publication of these documents and complimented all involved in their preparation. The Minister said “I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the progress made over the past year in preparing for a possible flu pandemic and this work will continue to be a priority in 2007”.

National Pandemic Influenza Plan

The National Pandemic Influenza Plan is based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for national pandemic plans and reflects the advice of the Pandemic Influenza Expert Group.

The purpose of the National Pandemic Influenza Plan is to limit the effects of a potential pandemic and to:

– inform the public about pandemic influenza
– explain what the Government and the health services are doing to prepare for a possible pandemic
– give information on what members of the public need to do if there is a pandemic.

Written jointly by the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive, the plan concentrates on the health response to pandemic influenza but also provides some advice on the planning which must take place across all sectors of society. The pandemic plan is based on eight core elements of response: communications strategy, telephone hotline, public responsibilities, surveillance, antiviral drugs, pandemic vaccine, reorganisation of health services, and essential supplies.

The following estimates were adopted for planning purposes:

–  a cumulative clinical attack rate of between 25% and 50% of the population;
–  a hospitalisation rate of between 0.55% and 3.70%;
–  a case fatality rate of between 0.37% and 2.50% (equivalent to the 1957 and1918 pandemics respectively).

“The measures identified in this National Plan are designed to reduce the impact of a pandemic. If a pandemic arises each of us has a role to play in ensuring that it is managed”, said Professor Brendan Drumm, CEO of the HSE.

Pandemic Influenza Preparedness for Ireland- Advice of the Pandemic Influenza Expert Group

Advice from the Pandemic Influenza Expert Group was also published today which provides vital and authoritative information on pandemic influenza.

The advice outlines clinical guidance and provides public health advice to health professionals and others involved in pandemic influenza preparedness and response.  Its contents are consistent with the revised WHO Global Influenza Preparedness Plan. It is being issued as a consultative document.  Following a three month consultation period which will end in April 2007, a final version will be published.

The chair of the Pandemic Influenza Expert Group, Professor William Hall said:
“I encourage all interested parties to provide feedback to the expert group.  It is our intention that the final document will contain the best and most informed advice possible.”

The publication can be downloaded in english and irish HERE

Notes for Editor
Pandemic Influenza

A considerable amount of work has been done to prepare for a pandemic and its potential effects on Ireland. The Government has allocated significant funding to develop contingency plans – €9.3 million in 2005 and €19.3 million in 2006 and 2007.

The key elements of the health service plans for a possible pandemic are described under eight headings:

1. A Communications Strategy
Communications will be critical as a pandemic emerges and spreads towards Ireland. Advice will be issued to the public through leaflets, a dedicate website, ads. on TV, radio and in print media containing the most up to date information and advice. Regular press briefings will also be held.

2. A Telephone Hotline
A dedicated telephone hotline will be set up to provide medical advice and support. Anyone ill with flu-like symptoms will be asked to ring this hotline for advice and direction.  On ringing the hotline which will operate 24 hours seven days a week, they will, based on a series of questions, be advised if they have the pandemic influenza virus or not. Those with the virus will be given all the advice and support required to allow them to stay at home to recover including antivirals. If their condition requires it arrangements will be made for them to see a GP or other Health Care Professional and in a small number of cases they will be referred to hospital.

3. Responsibilities of the Public
Members of the public will have a huge responsibility in managing a pandemic. It is essential that each member of the public listen to the advice issued and act on the advice given.

4. Surveillance
Recognising the occurrence of the first and subsequent cases of influenza pandemic in Ireland will be important in our management of the Pandemic. Surveillance in Hospitals, GP Surgeries and other healthcare facilities will be stepped up as a pandemic becomes imminent.

5. Antiviral Drugs
Significant quantities of antivirals have been purchased to treat influenza. Currently Ireland has in stock or on order enough antivirals to treat almost 2 million people.  This compares very favourably with other countries across Europe and beyond.

6.  Pandemic Vaccine
The ideal way to deal with a pandemic would be to vaccinate everyone in advance. This will not be possible as it will be least six months after the pandemic is declared before any significant quantities of vaccine become available in the world. The plan is to purchase enough pandemic vaccine to cover the entire population as soon as a vaccine is available. A small quantity of a vaccine for the H5N1 strain has been stockpiled, but this will only have some benefit if the next pandemic is related to the H5N1 virus.

7. Reorganisation of Health Services and Redeployment of Health Service Staff
All non essential health services will be cancelled or postponed during a pandemic, particularly so in the peak weeks of the pandemic. The staff and facilities freed up will be redeployed to treat influenza patients. This reorganisation of the health services to manage a pandemic requires co-ordination between the public system and private providers such as GPs, community pharmacies and private hospitals.

8. Essential Supplies
The Health Service Executive is building a national stockpile of medicines and supplies to manage a pandemic as some items may be difficult to acquire once a pandemic occurs.

The stockpile currently contains:

  • I million packs of Tamiflu, an antiviral medicine for adults;
  • enough Tamiflu in a paediatric preparation to treat 63,000 children;
  • 70,000 packs of Relenza (another antiviral medicine);
  • 184,200 doses of H5N1 vaccine which will be given to essential workers only;
  • 500, 000 surgical masks, 5 million pairs of disposable gloves and 150, 000 surgical gowns for health care providers.

Contracts have been agreed to buy more Relenza and H5N1 vaccine. A further 636,000 packs of Relenza will be delivered in batches during 2007 and 215,800 doses of H5N1 vaccine will be delivered in early 2007

 

The National Pandemic Influenza Plan is available on the websites of the Department of Health and Children www.health.gov.ie and the HSE www.hse.ie. Comments on the plan are welcome and can be emailed to: pandemicflu@health.irlgov.ie and pandemicflu@maild.hse.ie.

The Pandemic Influenza Expert Group

The Pandemic Influenza Expert Group is chaired by Professor William Hall, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) at University College Dublin. The Expert Group is comprised of medical experts as well as representatives of relevant organisations including the Irish Medicines Board, NVRL, Department of Agriculture and Food. The Health Service Executive and the Department of Health and Children are also represented on the group.

The guidance published today updates previous guidance issued to the Department of Health and Children in 2001: A Model Plan for Influenza Pandemic Preparedness.

The expert group monitors national and international research and developments in order to provide clear evidence based advice on pandemic influenza preparedness and research.   Members of the group have collaborated with WHO, the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to ensure that the guidance is compatible with guidance emanating from both WHO and European Centres.

Main changes in the new guidance include updated sections on antivirals, avian influenza, vaccines, surveillance and case management.  Modelling information on the impact of the pandemic has been updated.

Pandemic Influenza Preparedness for Ireland-Advice of the Pandemic Influenza Expert Group is published on www.hpsc.ie. Comments on this consultative document are welcome and should be sent to expertgroup@mailx.hse.ie or to the Pandemic Influenza Expert Group, HPSC, 25/27 Middle Gardiner Street, Dublin 1.