Experience and lessons from surveillance and studies of the 2009 pandemic in Europe

Public Health. 2010 Jan;124(1):14-23. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2009.12.001.


Surveillance and studies in a pandemic is a complex topic including four distinct components: (1) early detection and investigation; (2) comprehensive early assessment; (3) monitoring; and (4) rapid investigation of the effectiveness and impact of countermeasures, including monitoring the safety of pharmaceutical countermeasures. In the 2009 pandemic, the prime early detection and investigation took place in the Americas, but Europe needed to undertake the other three components while remaining vigilant to new phenomenon such as the emergence of antiviral resistance and important viral mutation. Laboratory-based surveillance was essential and also integral to epidemiological and clinical surveillance. Early assessment was especially vital because of the many important strategic parameters of the pandemic that could not be anticipated (the 'known unknowns'). Such assessment did not need to be undertaken in every country, and was done by the earliest affected European countries, particularly those with stronger surveillance. This was more successful than requiring countries to forward primary data for central analysis. However, it sometimes proved difficult to get even those analyses from European counties, and information from Southern hemisphere countries and North America proved equally valuable. These analyses informed which public health and clinical measures were most likely to be successful, and were summarized in a European risk assessment that was updated repeatedly. The estimate of the severity of the pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), and more detailed description by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in the risk assessment along with revised planning assumptions were essential, as most national European plans envisaged triggering more disruptive interventions in the event of a severe pandemic. Setting up new surveillance systems in the midst of the pandemic and getting information from them was generally less successful. All European countries needed to perform monitoring (Component 3) for the proper management of their own healthcare systems and other services. The information that central authorities might like to have for monitoring was legion, and some countries found it difficult to limit this to what was essential for decisions and key communications. Monitoring should have been tested for feasibility in influenza seasons, but also needed to consider what surveillance systems will change or cease to deliver during a pandemic. International monitoring (reporting upwards to WHO and European authorities) had to be kept simple as many countries found it difficult to provide routine information to international bodies as well as undertaking internal processes. Investigation of the effectiveness of countermeasures (and the safety of pharmaceutical countermeasures) (Component 4) is another process that only needs to be undertaken in some countries. Safety monitoring proved especially important because of concerns over the safety of vaccines and antivirals. It is unlikely that it will become clear whether and which public health measures have been successful during the pandemic itself. Piloting of methods of estimating influenza vaccine effectiveness (part of Component 4) in Europe was underway in 2008. It was concluded that for future pandemics, authorities should plan how they will undertake Components 2-4, resourcing them realistically and devising new ways of sharing analyses.

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype*
  • Influenza, Human / diagnosis
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control*
  • International Cooperation
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Public Health
  • Research
  • Risk Assessment / methods*