RSNA research highlights imaging's role in avian flu

February 11, 2006

A perpetual headache for congress organizers is thinking of ways to ensure that people stay at a meeting until the final day. As clinical workloads continue to rise, spending time away from the hospital becomes increasingly difficult. This explains why the RSNA and ECR meetings tend to go very quiet on Friday and Tuesday mornings, respectively.

A perpetual headache for congress organizers is thinking of ways to ensure that people stay at a meeting until the final day. As clinical workloads continue to rise, spending time away from the hospital becomes increasingly difficult. This explains why the RSNA and ECR meetings tend to go very quiet on Friday and Tuesday mornings, respectively.

Organizers have responded by holding back some of the best sessions until the last day. At the ECR in March, for instance, special focus sessions on virtual autopsy and female pelvic pain will take place on Tuesday in a bid to keep delegates from leaving early. Also, the much anticipated categorical course on cancer staging does not conclude until the final day.

At December's RSNA meeting, findings from a highly topical and original research study about avian flu were presented late on the final morning. Fortunately, one of our reporters, Karen Sandrick, was still at McCormick Place in Chicago, and her account appears in the news section of this issue, along with other articles from the congress. Many of the 200-plus members of the press covering the congress had left for the airport the day before, so Karen's reward was a rare scoop in the competitive world of radiology journalism.

One of the problems facing researchers is that very few autopsies have been performed on patients who have died of the H5N1 strain of avian flu during the Asian outbreak. For cultural and religious reasons, doctors in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Indonesia have found it very difficult to conduct the necessary postmortem tests. Some pathologists are also reluctant to carry out autopsies because of infection risk, according to press reports.

Imaging may help fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of avian flu and contribute to a better understanding of the virus, as happened with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003. Although the RSNA study involved only 14 patients with avian flu-nine died and five survived-chest x-rays and CT provided some useful information. Multifocal consolidation was the most common radiographic abnormality, while chest CT scans on three living patients showed focal consolidation, pneumatocoele, and a persistent loculated pneumothorax.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that the avian flu virus could become endemic in Turkey and poses a serious risk to neighboring countries. This forecast underlines the need for decisive action sooner rather than later, and the active involvement of the imaging community in this process could be of critical importance.

Our editorial team will be seeking further scoops at the European Congress of Radiology in early March. Please feel free to drop by and see us at our booth in the exhibition area. Also, I hope you will visit our online daily news service, which you can access via the website (www.diagnosticimaging.com) from Friday 3 March.