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Week #7: Avian and Pandemic Influenza A Biosocial Approach by Kleinman et Al.
This abstract summarizes conference proceedings from the Harvard University Asians Flus and
Avian Influenza Workshop held in December 2006 which introduced a BIOSOCIAL APPROACH
to the preparation for and control of pandemics
A biosocial approach brings together the biological and social sciences to develop an integrative,
collaborative response to the threat of pandemic influenza
These articles address the historical “siting” of epidemics, political and structural pandemic
preparedness in China, lessons to be taken from the 1976 “swine flu affair,” possibilities for
genetic engineering as an alternative to poultry vaccination, issues to be considered in the control
of infectious disease in swine and avian species, the ecology of influenza in migratory birds, and
issues of stigma and trust during the control of epidemics. The need to build public trust and
public health infrastructure is one of the primary messages of this collection.
People have been warning of a global influenza pandemic rivaling that of 1918, and saying it is
very imminent
Rather than simply adding more layers of scientific or political analysis, the articles in this
supplement to the Journal of Infectious Diseases propose a different way of preparing for and
potentially intervening in an event such as an influenza pandemicnamely, a biosocial approach.
A biosocial approach brings together the biological and social sciences in a collaborative effort to
better understand a disease event.
What has been lacking is an attempt to combine this knowledge and examine the multidirectional
interactions among the various pieces that too often are studied in isolation.
These articles are drawn from the diverse fields of molecular biology, veterinary biology, history,
anthropology, ecology, public health, and political economy and represent a sample of the work
that emerged from a high-level conference held at Harvard University in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, in December 2006.
Rosenberg’s article argues for the importance of “siting” epidemics within their historical and
geographical settings, pointing to previous outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever and the ongoing
AIDS epidemic to underline the rhetorical and emotional resonances taken on by acute and
mysterious out- breaks and the various responses to and uses of these events.
Joan A. Kaufman [4] of Harvard and Brandeis Universities considers the pandemic preparedness
of the government and health care system of the People’s Republic of China against the back- drop
of the brief but politically profound SARS epidemic and of 30 years of Chinese economic reforms.
o He argues that China although being a source of influenza, weak public health
infrastructure and failure to report of past disease outbreaks does causes some concern
but their efforts with SARS have been indicative of their future ability to mobilize
resources and eradicate and control a global pandemic
Fineberg analyzes how combinations of epidemiological uncertainty, political agendas and
anxiety, lack of rigorous analysis, and media blunders all contributed to a public health response
characterized by sloppiness and eventual failure.
Eileen Thacker and Bruce Janke [6] of Iowa State University also draw on connections between
swine, avian, and pandemic influenzas, detailing the current prevalence of swine and avian
influenza in domestic livestock populations, particularly in the United States; how these diseases
are usually controlled; and what risks for outbreaks among animals or humans continue to exist.
Thacker and Janke com- plicate both the common perception that zoonotic diseases are
They remind us that neither swine influenza nor avian influenza is an exotic or unusual disease; in
general, are well controlled in the United States through vaccination, surveillance, and targeted
Jianzhu Chen and colleagues [7] at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology use the molecular
biology techniques of RNA interference (RNAi) to introduce the potential for genetically
controlling the circulation of influenza viruses in the animal populations that Thacker and Janke
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