Rapid and innovative response to emerging diseases

Rapid and innovative response to emerging diseases
Rapid and innovative response to emerging diseases

This text is published as part of the series 25 years in retrospect which offers a review of issues whose impact has been the most significant for Quebec public health.

For 25 years, the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec has been monitoring emerging pathogens and trying to prevent the infectious diseases they cause. In this field of expertise, we find zoonoses which are transmitted between animals (including insects) and humans. Whether it is West Nile virus (WNV), Ebola virus, avian flu or rabies, the Institute plays a vanguard role in supporting the decision-making of public health authorities.

From monitoring to scientific support

The prevention of infectious diseases mainly aims to avoid their occurrence or to slow their spread. To remain on the lookout for the appearance of infectious diseases in the province, the Institute’s experts carry out continuous laboratory and surveillance activities.

For example, since 2003, the Quebec Public Health Laboratory (LSPQ) has participated in the PulseNet Canada network which uses genomic technologies to list pathogens detected throughout the country. It helps manage outbreaks of certain enteric diseases, such as listeriosis and salmonellosis. The LSPQ also continues to carry out several genomics research projects on different pathogens.

Integrated surveillance programs, such as that for WNV (since 2003) or that of Lyme disease (since 2014), facilitate the monitoring of new zoonoses and guide the planning of prevention activities.

These programs are adjusted regularly based on epidemiological changes, technological advances or other phenomena, such as climate change. These can promote the progression of zoonoses or the emergence of new pathogens, such as anaplasmosis. They also make it possible to draw up exhaustive portraits of the situation, such as the submission of a brief on Lyme disease to the Health and Social Services Commission in 2018, or to develop guides and tools.

A range of expertise for a rapid response

The demonstration of the effective response capacity of scientific teams no longer needs to be done. Already in 2003, a screening test was created in less than a month to respond to the pandemic threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) plaguing Toronto. This test helps support the health network and limit the spread of the virus. At the same time, the Institute carries out training activities to inform and guide professionals and laboratories in healthcare settings using the most recent scientific data.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the teams mobilized to draw up a continuous portrait of the epidemiological and vaccination situation, and offer recommendations, guides and tools for all the environments concerned. Screening tests were quickly made available to the health network. Also, to deal with the shortage of laboratory and hospital equipment (such as reagents or masks) the LSPQ tested the lifespan, the effectiveness of decontamination processes and the possibility of reusing equipment.

A final example, the outbreak of monkeypox in 2022 also highlighted the wide range of expertise of the Institute’s teams: rapid development of tests and recommendations linked to vaccination, prevention and control of transmission of the virus in healthcare settings and in the community.

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