CHAMPAIGN — It's been four years since the H1N1 virus had folks lining up for an extra flu shot. Should we take the threat of another pandemic seriously?
A local expert says yes, but risk isn't that easy to communicate to the public.
"People stop listening after a while," said Dr. John Herrmann, director of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine's Center for One Health Illinois.
The center held its first One Health summit in 2010 and will hold its second Thursday in Champaign to update the health of Illinois' human, animal and ecosystem communities and develop an action plan.
Local and state human- and animal-health experts will be attending the summit. It isn't open to the public.
Like H1N1 — which originated in swine — the next pandemic will more than likely originate in an animal and spread to people.
International travel makes pandemics a threat to take seriously in the U.S. So does residential and agricultural sprawl that keeps encroaching on more wildlife areas, Herrmann said.
"We're getting pets and people exposed to things we haven't developed resistance for," he said.
One current concern (but not a current international emergency) is the viral illness known as Middle East respiratory syndrome, caused by a coronavirus, Herrmann said.
First reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, MERS has been linked to 91 illnesses and 46 deaths. No cases have been identified in the U.S. to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Herrmann said the Center for One Health Illinois aims, through this summit, to assess human health, animal health and the ecosystem and develop a plan to improve all three because they're all related.
"They're so intertwined, you can't have one without the other," he said.
One focus at this year's summit will be an integrated health-surveillance system under development for Illinois, in which data — such as hospital admissions, school illness trends, pet illnesses, temperature and humidity information, even personal-care purchases at retail outlets that might indicate people are suddenly buying a lot of cold drugs — could be kept, Herrmann said.
Getting proprietary information from labs and retailers for the surveillance system is a challenge, he said, but he sees potential for that data.
"The intent is not to just sit and do the assessment," he said. "Illinois needs to have an integrated system that will integrate human, animal and ecosystem data."