Real-time info key to tackling epidemics
By conducting the right science and communicating expert judgement, researchers can help policymakers tackle epidemics such as the current swine flu — influenza A(H1N1) — outbreak, say Harvey V. Fineberg and Mary Elizabeth Wilson in an editorial in Science.
The authors argue that, in the face of a potential pandemic, policymakers need real-time information on pandemic risk, vulnerable populations, available interventions, implementation options and drawbacks, and public awareness.
Scientists can help — for example tracking epidemiological patterns and viral mutations can help refine pandemic risk estimates, while a range of laboratory, epidemiologic and social science research will be needed to answer questions about vulnerable populations or interventions to prevent and treat disease.
Attempts to tackle the current A(H1N1) outbreak have benefited from years of research investment and preparedness exercises across the world, say the authors. Researchers can now contribute to decision-making in real time — the causative virus for influenza A(H1N1) and its genetic sequence, for example, were identified within days.
Government agency leaders must ensure that the right scientific questions are answered, says the editorial. And scientists must "energetically pursue science in real time".