Global flu epidemic poses possible threat to RSNA

November 10, 2009
Philip Ward
Philip Ward

Volume 25, Issue 7

Spare a thought for the organizers of this year's RSNA congress, which begins in Chicago on November 29.

Spare a thought for the organizers of this year's RSNA congress, which begins in Chicago on November 29. The annual event may well take place during an H1N1 flu epidemic, and that could cause disruption.

If the epidemic arrives, RSNA officials are likely to have some sleepless nights this month, and they certainly appear to be taking the situation very seriously. They have set up an information page on the meeting website, although it is not easy to find. In addition, they are providing onsite medical assessments for symptomatic persons and advising delegates with flu-like symptoms not to attend. For those hardy souls who do make it to McCormick Place, hand-sanitizing gels will be available in the conference materials and at the convention center, hotels, and airports.

“Get your seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 flu vaccine when it is available,” the organizers advise. “In clinical trials, most adults who got a single dose of H1N1 vaccine were protected within eight to 10 days. Make sure you get a good night's sleep the day before you are vaccinated. Sleep can boost the effectiveness of immunizations.”

More than 60,000 people are expected at the RSNA scientific sessions and technical exhibits, but a flu epidemic would have a significant impact on attendance levels, just as the terrorist attacks on the U.S. did back in 2001.

On its part, the RSNA is keen to provide frank and accurate information, but understandably it does not wish to discourage travel or cause unnecessary panic. Cancellation of the meeting is only if the virus is highly virulent, easily transmitted, and quickly spreading, as my colleague James Brice reported on Oct. 2 in the daily news story on DiagnosticImaging.com

The World Health Organization attributed around 4000 deaths worldwide to the A/H1N1 virus. There are more than 319,000 confirmed cases, though the actual case count is much higher because many mild cases are not recorded, according to a WHO report. In the U.S. state of Illinois, 19 deaths and 438 hospitalizations have been attributed to the disease since January.

On the positive side, however, the infection rate is highest among those aged five to 24 years, and its virulence drops off appreciably for middle-aged and older adults. The future course of the disease is unpredictable, but its genetic makeup has been stable. That suggests the virus is not likely to become deadlier, and the H1N1 vaccine will be effective, according to experts quoted by Brice.

As the congress approaches, it will be interesting to see if RSNA develops further contingency plans and creates alternative options for participating in the conference. Web-based viewing is one possibility. Wherever you are in the world, remember you can follow events on our live news service from RSNA.