Facing the threat of influenza pandemic - roles of and implications to general practitioners
1 School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 4th Floor, School of Public Health, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong
2 Adjunct Professor of Applied Health Science, School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA
BMC Public Health 2010, 10:661 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-661Published: 2 November 2010
The 2009 pandemic of H1N1 influenza, compounded with seasonal influenza, posed a global challenge. Despite the announcement of post-pandemic period on 10 August 2010 by theWHO, H1N1 (2009) virus would continue to circulate as a seasonal virus for some years and national health authorities should remain vigilant due to unpredictable behaviour of the virus. Majority of the world population is living in countries with inadequate resources to purchase vaccines and stockpile antiviral drugs. Basic hygienic measures such as wearing face masks and the hygienic practice of hand washing could reduce the spread of the respiratory viruses. However, the imminent issue is translating these measures into day-to-day practice. The experience from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong has shown that general practitioners (GPs) were willing to discharge their duties despite risks of getting infected themselves. SARS event has highlighted the inadequate interface between primary and secondary care and valuable health care resources were thus inappropriately matched to community needs.
There are various ways for GPs to contribute in combating the influenza pandemic. They are prompt in detecting and monitoring epidemics and mini-epidemics of viral illnesses in the community. They can empower and raise the health literacy of the community such as advocating personal hygiene and other precautious measures. GPs could also assist in the development of protocols for primary care management of patients with flu-like illnesses and conduct clinical audits on the standards of preventive and treatment measures. GPs with adequate liaison with public health agencies would facilitate early diagnosis of patients with influenza.
In this article, we summarise the primary care actions for phases 4-6 of the pandemic. We shall discuss the novel roles of GPs as alternative source of health care for patients who would otherwise be cared for in the secondary care level. The health care system would thus remain sustainable during the public health crisis.