Avian influenza : current situation
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Avian influenza : current situation

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      The highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) epizootic (animal outbreak) in Asia, Europe, the Near East, and Africa is not expected to diminish significantly in the short term. It is likely that H5N1 virus infections among domestic poultry have become endemic in certain areas and that sporadic human infections resulting from direct contact with infected poultry and/or wild birds will continue to occur. So far, the spread of H5N1 virus from person-to-person has been very rare, limited and unsustained. However, this epizootic continues to pose an important public health threat. There is little pre-existing natural immunity to H5N1 virus infection in the human population. If H5N1 viruses gain the ability for efficient and sustained transmission among humans, an influenza pandemic could result, with potentially high rates of illness and death worldwide. No evidence for genetic reassortment between human and avian influenza A virus genes has been found to date, and there is no evidence of any significant changes to circulating H5N1 virus strains to suggest greater transmissibility to or among humans. Genetic sequencing of avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses from human cases in Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia shows resistance to the antiviral medications amantadine and rimantadine, two of the medications commonly used for treatment of influenza. This leaves two remaining antiviral medications (oseltamivir and zanamivir) that should still be effective against currently circulating strains of H5N1 viruses. A small number of oseltamivir resistant H5N1 virus infections of humans have been reported. Efforts to produce pre-pandemic vaccine candidates for humans that would be effective against avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses are ongoing. However, no H5N1 vaccines are currently available for human use. Research suggests that currently circulating strains of H5N1 viruses are becoming more capable of causing disease (pathogenic) in animals than were earlier H5N1 viruses. One study found that ducks infected with H5N1 virus are now shedding more virus for longer periods without showing symptoms of illness. This finding has implications for the role of ducks in transmitting disease to other birds and possibly to humans as well. Additionally, other findings have documented H5N1 virus infection among pigs in China and Vietnam; H5N1 virus infection of cats (experimental infection of housecats in the Netherlands, isolation of H5N1 virus from domestic cats in Germany and Thailand, and detection of H5N1 viral RNA in domestic cats in Iraq and Austria); H5N1 virus infection of dogs (isolation of H5N1 virus from a domestic dog in Thailand); and isolation of H5N1 viruses from tigers and leopards at zoos in Thailand). In addition, H5N1 virus infection in a wild stone marten (a weasel-like mammal) was reported in Germany and in a wild civet cat in Vietnam. Avian influenza A (H5N1) virus strains that emerged in Asia in 2003 continue to evolve and may adapt so that other mammals may be susceptible to infection as well.
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