Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC/Fiocruz)
With the goal of strengthening integrated influenza surveillance and COVID-19, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promoted training for nine countries in the Caribbean region. The course focused on molecular diagnosis and epidemiology of Influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses. Representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines participated.
Laboratory specialists and health surveillance services from nine countries participated in the training at Fiocruz's headquarters. (Photo: Gutenberg Brito)
The Laboratory of Respiratory Viruses and Measles of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC/Fiocruz) was the host of the training, held from July 12 to 14, at Fiocruz's head office in Rio de Janeiro.
A reference in respiratory viruses along with the Ministry of Health, the Laboratory acts as the National Influenza Center in the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), in addition to being a reference in Covid-19 in the Americas for the entity.
The head of the Laboratory, Marilda Siqueira, stresses the importance of expanding the joint surveillance of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses, since both are in circulation and provoke similar clinical conditions.
“We need real-time data to understand which viruses are circulating in different regions of the Americas more than ever. All countries need to work together on integrated surveillance of these diseases," Marilda said.
According to The Paho Health Emergency Department laboratory specialist, Juliana Leite, the training will contribute to improving the global influenza surveillance system and expanding the internal response capacity of Caribbean countries.
"During the pandemic, these localities implemented molecular diagnosis for detection of SARS-CoV-2, but still needed to send samples abroad for confirmation and
characterization of Influenza. With the training, they will be able to generate all the virological data internally", she pointed out.
Molecular diagnosis is based on the detection of genetic material from pathogens. In addition to confirming the infection, the methodology allows, for example, to characterize the subtypes of influenza viruses, which is fundamental for the formulation of the influenza vaccine.
As these circulating subtypes change frequently, the vaccine is updated twice a year. One formulation is applied in the Northern Hemisphere and another in the Southern Hemisphere, always in the period before the beginning of winter in each region.
Established in 1952, the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System is responsible for identifying the strains that should make up the vaccine. Currently, the system operates with a network of laboratories in 124 countries.
The National Influenza Centers are responsible for collecting samples and performing analyses to select specimens representative of circulating influenza viruses. Then, Collaborating Centers of WHO perform in-depth analyses of these samples. The results are the basis for establishing the composition of the vaccine.
The System also acts to detect atypical influenza strains in the population, such as animal viruses, which can trigger pandemics.
The leader of the CDC's Genomics and Influenza Diagnosis team, which serves as a Collaborating Center of WHO, John Barnes, points out that collaboration between countries is central to the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.
"The ability of countries to identify the Influenza virus is the basis of the System, and this will also be critical to the surveillance of SARS-CoV-2. That's why this kind of training is so important," John said.
The training brought together professionals from laboratories and health surveillance services in the participating countries. The theoretical sessions discussed the biology of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses and the global infection surveillance system.
The practical training for the laboratory teams addressed two protocols: one for molecular diagnosis of Influenza and SARS-CoV-2 and the other for characterization of influenza virus subtypes. Epidemiology teams conducted practical training for the collection, management and analysis of surveillance data related to cases of respiratory syndromes.