'With Avian flu, you need to recognise symptoms early and map out patterns'

October 21, 2005

A UK epidemiologist aims to forge new links with China and Vietnam to fight emerging infectious diseases

Anne Johnson will travel to China and Vietnam this week as part of a Medical Research Council delegation studying emerging and infectious diseases - in particular avian influenza.

Professor Johnson, an expert in infectious disease epidemiology, wants to establish new collaborations with Chinese and Vietnamese scientists to help fight potential future epidemics. The MRC trip had been planned for months, but it comes just as avian influenza is again in the headlines.

She said that although many individual UK scientists working on infectious diseases collaborate with colleagues in Southeast Asia, there are no formal national links. "We recognise the excellence of Chinese and Vietnamese science and the way that they're investing in it," said Professor Johnson, the head of the primary care and population sciences department at University College London.

"China has developed its science base over many years, and as things open up economically, we can start the scientific and educational exchange. In the same way that we're building economic links, we need scientific links."

Most of Professor Johnson's experience is in behavioural epidemiology, focusing on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. She was principal investigator on the first national surveys of sexual behaviour.

She said that there were important areas of investigation that applied to avian flu and to STDs. "Flu raises a lot of basic epidemiological questions about transmission. The crucial thing is good information. You need to be able to recognise the symptoms early and map out patterns of disease."

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