Since 1997, avian influenza (AI) virus infections in poultry have taken on new significance, with increasing numbers of cases involving bird-to-human transmission and the resulting production of clinically severe and fatal human infections. Such human infections have been sporadic and are caused by H7N7 and H5N1 high-pathogenicity (HP) and H9N2 low-pathogenicity (LP) AI viruses in Europe and Asia. These infections have raised the level of concern by human health agencies for the potential reassortment of influenza virus genes and generation of the next human pandemic influenza A virus. The presence of endemic infections by H5N1 HPAI viruses in poultry in several Asian countries indicates that these viruses will continue to contaminate the environment and be an exposure risk with human transmission and infection. Furthermore, the reports of mammalian infections with H5N1 AI viruses and, in particular, mammal-to-mammal transmission in humans and tigers are unprecedented. However, the subsequent risk for generating a pandemic human strain is unknown. More international funding from both human and animal health agencies for diagnosis or detection and control of AI in Asia is needed. Additional funding for research is needed to understand why and how these AI viruses infect humans and what pandemic risks they pose.
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Vol. 49 • No. 3