2006-01-20-More dangerous strain of bird fluUnderstanding Avian Influenza
2006-01-20-More dangerous strain of bird flu
Preparations for a flu pandemic are being undermined because health authorities have become obsessed with a single strain of the virus at the expense of a potentially more dangerous version, a leading scientist said yesterday.
Chris Potter, of the University of Sheffield, said that although the H5N1 avian flu virus is clearly a threat, its spread has led researchers to ignore another strain that history suggests is more likely to trigger a pandemic.
The spread of the H5N1 virus among birds, and its exceptional virulence when it infects people, has led scientists to concentrate surveillance and research on this strain of influenza to the exclusion of others, he told an international flu conference in London.
Historical evidence, however, indicates that viruses from the H5 family have never before triggered a pandemic, while H2 influenza strains pose an underestimated hazard to human health.
Although he accepted the necessity of watching H5N1 closely and developing vaccines, Professor Potter said that scientists must be careful not to focus their efforts too closely on a strain that may turn out to be the wrong one to worry about. Monitoring programmes need to be widened to ensure that the first signs of a resurgent H2 strain are also picked up, he said.