International health regulations go into force in U.S.

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Healthcare and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt announced that the revised International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) enter into force today for the United States. The updated rules are designed to prevent and protect against the international spread of diseases while minimizing interference with world travel and trade. 

The IHR are an international legal instrument that governs the roles of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its member countries in relation to disease outbreaks and other public health events with international impact. They establish a framework for countries that are party to the regulations to promptly and transparently report on and to respond effectively to health events that present a risk of spread to other countries and potentially require a coordinated international response.

The previous version of the IHR, adopted in 1969, applied to only four diseases: cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, and plague.

However, in recent decades, increases in international travel and trade, along with marked developments in communication technology, have led to new challenges in the control of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, HHS said. Among these new challenges are the threats posed by the natural, accidental, or deliberate release of chemical, biological, or radiological materials, according to the agency.

The U.S. government formally accepted the IHR in December 2006 and began the process at that time of implementing these new international rules.