Bird Flu Alarm



Understanding Avian Influenza

Why H5N1 Is Of Particular Concern


Of the 15 avian influenza virus subtypes, H5N1 is of particular concern for several reasons. H5N1 mutates rapidly and has a documented propensity to acquire genes from viruses infecting other animal species. Its ability to cause severe disease in humans has now been documented on two occasions. In addition, laboratory studies have demonstrated that isolates from this virus have a high pathogenicity and can cause severe disease in humans. Birds that survive infection excrete virus for at least 10 days, orally and in faeces, thus facilitating further spread at live poultry markets and by migratory birds.

The epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza caused by H5N1, which began in mid-December 2003 in the Republic of Korea and is now being seen in other Asian countries, is therefore of particular public health concern. H5N1 variants demonstrated a capacity to directly infect humans in 1997, and have done so again in Viet Nam in January 2004. The spread of infection in birds increases the opportunities for direct infection of humans. If more humans become infected over time, the likelihood also increases that humans, if concurrently infected with human and avian influenza strains, could serve as the 뱈ixing vessel?for the emergence of a novel subtype with sufficient human genes to be easily transmitted from person to person. Such an event would mark the start of an influenza pandemic.

Understanding Avian Influenza