Avian Flu

The Avian Flu, or bird flu, is an infection caused by influenza viruses in birds. Wild birds worldwide carry influenza viruses but do not usually become sick from them. However, the same influenza virus that does not make wild birds sick can make some domesticated birds, such as chickens and turkeys, very sick and can kill them.

Scientists are closely monitoring an outbreak of avian flu in Asia. Avian flu has been found in birds in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Human cases of avian influenza have been reported in Thailand and Vietnam, some of which have lead to deaths.

Organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control are worried that the avian flu will become the next pandemic — an outbreak of an infectious disease that affects people over a large geographic area.

An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges in people, causes serious illness, and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide. This is different from seasonal outbreaks of influenza. Seasonal outbreaks are caused by influenza viruses that are already in existence among people, where pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes or by subtypes that have never circulated among people. Past influenza pandemics have been extremely costly. For example, from 1918 — 1919 the "Spanish flu" pandemic caused the deaths of more than 500,000 people in the U.S.

Many scientists and researchers believe it is just a matter of time until the next influenza pandemic. It is unlikely that a vaccine would be available in the early stages of the pandemic, and once a vaccine is developed it takes several months before it becomes widely available.

In order to be as prepared as possible for an influenza pandemic, the US Department of Health and Human Services has developed a Pandemic Influenza Response and Preparedness Plan. To view the plan, and to learn more about the avian flu, visit the US Department of Health and Human Service's web site.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The information here is so interesting and helpful. Thank you!

posted on Wed, 06/15/2005 - 5:55am
Joe's picture
Joe says:

Recent experiments funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and conducted by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have found that an antiviral drug currently used against annual influenza is also effective in suppressing one of the influenza strains circulating in Vietnam, H5N1. This is good news, as antiviral drugs will likely be needed to treat avian flu, especially in the early stages, as most people would be unvaccinated and it will take several months to produce and distribute a vaccine.

St. Jude researchers also compared the virulence of the H5N1 virus circulating in Vietnam now with a 1997 variant of H5N1 that killed six people in Hong Kong. They discovered that the 2004 virus is much more virulent than the 1997 virus. The researchers indicate that this would likely require a longer course of antivirals to treat the current version of the virus.

The press release for this information can be found here.

posted on Wed, 07/20/2005 - 8:38am
Joe's picture
Joe says:

In a bizarre and somewhat alarming move, Indonesia's National Institute of Health for Research and Development ordered that the biggest, most experienced and best-equipped avian influenza laboratory in the country be shut down at the end of this year. See the letter announcing the decision here.
The lab, called NAMRU-2, is run by the United States Navy in Jakarta, and participates in with the World Health Organization's surveillance fro emerging diseases in Indonesia. Closing the lab could hamper detection of an outbreak of influenza. Given that a rapid response to the detection of a local influenza outbreak is key to averting a global outbreak, and given the cases of avian flu already diagnosed in Indonesia, I hope that the US and Indonesia can resolve their issues to keep this lab open.

posted on Wed, 12/14/2005 - 10:13am

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