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What is Influenza?

Seasonal Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.

Avian Flu

Avian Influenza (bird flu) refers to influenza A viruses found chiefly in birds, but infections with these viruses can occur in humans. The risk from avian influenza is generally low to most people, because the viruses do not usually infect humans. However, confirmed cases of human infection from several subtypes of avian influenza infection have been reported since 1997. Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry (e.g., domesticated chicken, ducks, and turkeys) or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds. The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another person has been reported very rarely.

Swine Flu

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with swine flu have occurred.

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Flu Pandemics

A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population, begins to cause serious illness and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide. A pandemic is determined by spread of disease, not its ability to cause death.  The 20th century saw three pandemics of influenza, and the 21st has experienced one flu pandemic.

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Office of Global Affairs

The goal of HHS Office of Global Affairs to increase the global capacity to detect and respond to influenza and other emerging pandemic threats in partnership with various stakeholders, including U.S. Government agencies, Ministries of Health, multilateral and international organizations, and civil society organizations. OGA's role is to provide vision, leadership, advocacy, and coordination of international activities related to influenza and other emerging pandemic threats through policy analysis, development and coordination, program coordination, policy implementation, and strategic planning. The coordination work involves the following entities:

  • HHS staff
  • HHS Operating Divisions, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (ASPR/BARDA), and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Office of Preparedness and Emergency Operations (ASPR/OPEO)
  • Other United States departments, including United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of State (DOS), Treasury, Commerce, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • International organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza (IPAPI), Global Health Security Action Group (GHSAG), United Nations System Influenza Coordination (UNSIC), and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)
  • Non-profit sector (e.g., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH)
  • Foreign governments

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Policy Analysis and Coordination

Some examples of key initiatives and areas of emphasis are:

  • Global leadership and diplomacy with the World Health Organization on efforts to increase influenza vaccine manufacturing capacity in developing countries
  • Interagency development of the national strategy for Emerging Pandemic Threats
  • Representing the United States at WHO negotiations related to international influenza virus sample and benefits sharing

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Coordination – Intradepartmental, Interagency, and Multilateral

  • Lead the coordination on influenza and other pandemic threats with USAID, Department of Defense, and Department of State
  • International influenza surveillance, detection and response capacity gap analysis
  • Coordination on foreign policy and technical support related to influenza and pandemic threats
  • Pandemic Influenza Work Group of Global Health Security Action Group (G7 + Mexico)
  • Human-animal interface coordination of programs at CDC, NIH, USAID, and USDA
  • International Ministerial Conference on Animal and Pandemic Influenza

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Health Diplomacy and Representation/Scientific Policy Support

  • Donation of antiviral medications and lab kits to embargoed countries during the pandemic
  • Lower Mekong Initiative
  • World Health Assembly (H1N1, influenza issues, and Smallpox)
  • Coordinating official visits of foreign delegations and health ministers, as well as convening interagency partners for collaboration on international influenza policy and activities


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