Flu threat

Avian influenza has disappeared from the headlines, as rapidly as it began. But this is not because the threat has receded. The risk of H5N1 avian influenza mutating into a humanly transmissible strain is as high as ever. To date, different strains of avian influenza have spread to three countries with reliable animal health reporting systems - Japan, Canada and the US. “Given how far H5N1 avian influenza has spread, the world will be on the verge of a pandemic for at least a year,” says Klaus Stoehr of the WHO.

The pandemic risk from H5N1 arises if a person is simultaneously infected by both the avian influenza virus and by a human influenza virus. Airborne strains of this deadly virus are much more easily spread than SARS. This is why the quarantine that worked so well for SARS would not work for a recombined avian-human influenza. Experts agree that once efficient human-to-human transmission is established, nothing will be able to stop the spread around the world. In such a case, in order to protect their populations, governments around the world sho-uld implement basic pandemic preparedness measures: contingency planning. Invest in influenza vaccine programs. Stockpile anti-viral influenza drugs. Insist that surveillance in countries with H5N1 avian influenza is according to WHO guidelines and procedures. — International Herald Tribune