According to the World Health Organization (WHO), no one can predict when the next influenza pandemic might occur. However biomedical experts agree that the occurrence of one is inevitable, and are watching the H5N1 (avian influenza A) situation in Europe and Asia very closely for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person. In the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that with a severe flu pandemic, 90 million Americans would become ill and nearly two million would die. They estimate that as many as 10 million people would be hospitalized. Presenting with respiratory illness, many may require ventilators--already in short supply--to help them breathe. Even with sufficient ventilators and respiratory equipment, a threat remains. Traditional disinfection methods do not destroy the SARS or influenza viruses. In fact, the SARS virus was found to live on surfaces for prolonged periods of time, up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel and 96 hours on glass slides.
Although avian flu preparedness and media attention is focused on vaccine development and stockpiling of antiviral medicines and antibiotics, the threat of nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infection remains significant. Based on key observations from the SARS outbreak, the public health community recognizes that there are a number of measures hospitals can take now to help safeguard patients and staff from avian flu and other infectious viruses that could threaten global health.