Monto Advises China on Flu

Monto Advises China on Flu

On an informal basis, Arnold Monto has been working with Chinese health officials for the past 20 years to help stem the tide of lethal diseases like SARS and avian influenza. Now the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing has formalized the relationship by giving the SPH epidemiologist an honorary appointment as advisor to the organization through 2012, a development Monto calls “very exciting.”

Yu Hongjie, deputy director of the Chinese CDC’s Office for Disease Control and Emergency Response, wants Monto to help health officials determine the impact of seasonal influenza in China and assess the efficacy of vaccines to halt its spread in various regions of the country, particularly among children and older adults. China “is beginning to realize that they have a problem not only with avian flu, which has occurred rarely, but also with regular seasonal influenza,” says Monto, an authority on both types of flu, who also advises the World Health Organization.

Until recently, Chinese health officials, like officials in many other countries, focused most of their attention on avian flu, a looming threat to human health worldwide. But as Monto points out, avian influenza is a variant of influenza, and seasonal influenza is a growing problem in China—especially among older populations in urban settings. Monto suspects that fewer than one percent of the Chinese population gets flu vaccinations. Officials at the Chinese CDC hope studies will demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of widespread seasonal-flu immunization, and may in turn lead to an increase in the number of Chinese who get an annual flu shot.

There is growing recognition in the developing world that seasonal flu is a significant threat. That’s a new development, Monto says, and a welcome one, given the ever-present danger of an avian flu pandemic. “If you don’t address seasonal flu, you’re not going to have vaccines and antivirals available for a pandemic,” he warns. “Nobody’s going to build a plant to produce a vaccine once every 20 to 40 years, when the pandemic comes along.” Monto’s appointment is part of a broad effort by Chinese officials to control future outbreaks of infectious disease.

Photo by Mary Beth Lewis

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