Respiratory Viruses Slide Set
H5N1 Avian Influenza
The H5N1 avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong 1997
In the latter half of 1997, an outbreak occurred in Hong Kong
whereby 18 persons were infected by an avian influenza A,
serotype H5N1. Of these 6 died, and 3 others were severely ill.
The source of the outbreak was infected chickens and the outbreak
stopped after all the chickens were slaughtered in the territory.
Large-scale serological studies carried out showed that workers
in the poultry industry were particularly at risk of infection
although none complained of any symptoms. There was evidence of
limited human to human transmission. It was postulated that the
strain of avian influenza involved was unusually virulent; it had
multiple basic amino acids near the cleavage site of the
haemagglutinin protein, which as a result may render the
haemagglutinin susceptible to a wider range of proteases. Since
that outbreak, no more cases have occurred. In 1999, there were
reports of human infections by avian influenza A H9N2 in Hong
Kong and in Mainland China. However, all these cases were very
mild and it is thought that the virus was unlikely to pose a
large public health risk.
The virus resurfaced in Feb 2003 to cause 2 infections (one fatal) in a Hong Kong family who had recently traveled to China. It began to cause outbreaks in the rest of Asia that year that were unnoticed. In 2004, Vietnam and Thailand started reporting human infections, followed by Cambodia, Indonesia and China in 2005. The strains exhibited divergence in these localities. It is now thought that highly pathogenic H5N1 is now firmly endemic Asia and has also spread to Europe and Africa. The WHO has put great priority and resources in the surveillance of H5N1 infections worldwide in the hope of averting or diminishing the impact of a pandemic should a pandemic capable strain emerges. http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/
Risks of a pandemic
The present H5N1 strains do not have the ability to transmit efficiently between humans. To date, there had been no certain cases of human to human transmission although a few suspicious clustering of cases in families have occurred. It is thought an avian influenza may acquire this capability through either
Reassortment with human influenza viruses (1957 and 1968). Reassortments in 1957 (H1N1-H2N2), and 1968 (H2N2-H3N2) are thought to have occurred through an intermediary host such as the pig.
Gradual mutations, as suspected in the 1918 pandemic H1N1 strain. Direct infection of humans by H5N1 opens the possibility that reassortment can occur without an intermediary host.
Many experts believe that a pandemic was stopped in 1997 in Hong Kong by the culling of chickens. The bottom line is that nobody knows when and if a pandemic will arise out of the current H5N1 outbreaks.
A large number of control measures have been implemented or recommended against avian H5N1 infection, at both the animal and human level. These include increased surveillance of livestock, increased biosecurity to prevent contact between livestock and migratory birds, and also vaccination of livestock. At the human level, there is increased surveillance, stockpiling of tamiflu, and also the development of candidate vaccines.
In August 2005, WHO sent all countries a document outlining
recommended strategic actions for responding to the avian influenza pandemic
threat. Recommended actions aim to strengthen national preparedness, reduce
opportunities for a pandemic virus to emerge, improve the early warning system,
delay initial international spread, and accelerate vaccine development. Despite
an advance warning that has lasted almost two years, the world is ill-prepared
to defend itself during a pandemic. WHO has urged all countries to develop
preparedness plans, but only around 40 have done so. WHO has further urged
countries with adequate resources to stockpile antiviral drugs nationally for
use at the start of a pandemic. Around 30 countries are purchasing large
quantities of these drugs, but the manufacturer has no capacity to fill these
orders immediately. On present trends, most developing countries will have no
access to vaccines and antiviral drugs throughout the duration of a pandemic.
Respiratory Viruses Slide Set