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Joint ECDC and WHO/Europe annual influenza meeting reflects on work in progress

08 Jun 2012
On 30 May - 1 June 2012, ECDC and the WHO Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe) jointly held their second Annual Influenza Working Meeting in Warsaw, Poland. The meeting attracted over 130 participants from 38 countries, including all EU Member States, countries participating in the South East Europe Health Network, Israel, Switzerland and Turkey. The main work undertaken by delegates in over 20 sessions and 70 talks and discussions was reviewing progress in the last 12 months and agreeing on the work for the coming year.

The main meeting covered a wide range of topics in influenza virology and epidemiology, with a focus on describing the unusual 2011/2012 influenza season, which was dominated by the return of A(H3N2) viruses (see more in ECDC weekly influenza summary and EuroFlu). Developments in the TESSy and Euroflu, the respective ECDC and WHO/Europe influenza surveillance platforms, were reviewed and discussed. It was noted that, due to differences in health care systems, countries are using diverse approaches to monitor severe disease and mortality.

With respect to the Community Network of Reference Laboratories for Human Influenza in Europe and the National Influenza Centres in the region, the activities of the network were reviewed to identify strengths and weaknesses, develop a long-term training and external quality assurance programme and define areas such as antiviral susceptibility testing and seroepidemiology, which may not need to be performed routinely in every country. Progress was reported in developing outbreak protocols, risk assessment methodology and the role of qualitative indicators to describe influenza activity. During sessions on reporting essential virological data, emphasis was given to the importance of reporting to GISAID and other global sequence databases. At the request of last year’s attendees there was a special session on influenza immunisation.

The meeting was jointly opened by Dr Caroline Brown, Programme Manager Influenza & Other Respiratory Pathogens, WHO/Europe, Dr Andrew Amato Gauci, Head of Surveillance at ECDC, and Prof. Mirosław J. Wysocki, MD, PhD, Director General of National Institute of Public Health – National Institute of Hygiene, Poland. In his welcoming remarks, Prof. Wysocki emphasised the importance of the serious challenge from influenza to Poland and the difficulties that have been experienced in raising immunisation rates. In the special immunisation session, Caroline Brown presented the new global WHO recommendations on influenza immunisation and Dr Sylvie Briand, Coordinator of the Influenza Programme at WHO headquarters, underscored that these global recommendations now had to be adapted to the European situations. Dr Darina O’Flanagan from the Irish Health Protection Surveillance Centre presented the latest VENICE survey results showing how coverage of influenza immunisation has stagnated, if not declined, in Europe since the pandemic. Esther Kissling from the company Epiconcept reported on the low vaccine effectiveness this season found by the I-MOVE project, while Rod Daniels of the WHO Collaborating Centre in Europe suggested a virological mechanism for this.    

In closing, ECDC’s Influenza Programme Head Professor Angus Nicoll said, “The success of this meeting shows how well our two organizations can work together. I would like to thank the many people who have worked hard to make the event possible.” Conclusions and presentations from the meeting will be made available on ECDC and WHO/Europe websites.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO/Europe jointly coordinate surveillance and other activities related to the prevention and mitigation of influenza in the European Region.

Read more: Meeting programme

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