Public Release: 

Avian influenza: The threat looms


The potential threat of avian influenza is discussed in this week's editorial. Five human deaths have been reported in Vietnam up to Jan 20, 2004. The disease is caused by influenza virus type A, and infects many animal species. A highly pathogenic avian influenza is caused by subtypes H5 and H7; wild birds are thought to be the reservoir for the virus which infects humans via live poultry markets common in south-east Asia (see last week's rapid review on wet animal markets: Lancet, Jan 17, 2004, p 234-36).

Commenting on the implications for a widespread human outbreak of avian influenza, the editorial concludes: 'The possibility of a human pandemic with a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus must be taken very seriously indeed. With the latest outbreak in birds in Vietnam, teams from WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization were quickly in country. One thing is clear: given that all new infectious diseases of human beings to emerge in the past 20 years have had an animal source, veterinary science and animal husbandry are as important for disease control as clinical medicine. When funding and resources are allocated, animal experts must not be overlooked.'


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