Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Warning On The H5N1 Influenza Virus

Avian Influenza or bird flu refers to a large group of different virus that normally infect only birds and less commonly, pigs. However on rare occasions, these viruses have crossed the species barrier to infect humans.

Eight years after a new strain of an influenza virus in birds claimed the lives of its first human victims. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning that it is no longer a question of if an influenza pandemic will occur. It is now only a question of when. Human casualties could be in the order of millions.

WHO issued the warning in the wake of the latest outbreaks of a highly pathogenic strain of influenza virus, the H5N1 that began in Southeast Asia in the middle of 2003. Despite the death and destruction of an estimated 150 million birds, the virus is now considered endemic in many parts of China, Thailand, Cambodia and Loa People's democratic republic.

According to WHO, the H5N1 virus has met the two of the three conditions necessary for a pandemic to occur: its is a new virus for humans and has infected more than a hundred people, killing over half of them. The only prerequisite missing is the establishment of an efficient and sustained human to human transmission of the virus. Unless global efforts are undertaken to contain the circulation of the virus in birds, WHO says that the third condition for a pandemic will be met.

Experts believe that H5N1 circulation in birds continue for years. Once H5N1 adapts and becomes contagious among humans; it will no longer be a bird virus, this is a new human flu virus will set off the next influenza pandemic that experts predict will dwarf the human and economic toll of SARS.



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