Research on the H5N1 influenza (bird flu) virus' human transmissibility is seriously starting to worry WHO (World Health Organization) experts - in a written statement, the authors express concern about the potential risks linked to this research. The possible negative consequences of some experiments are serious and potentially dangerous. However, WHO adds that in cases where scientists work under the strictest of conditions, experiments should continue so that the fight against bird flu may progress. The H5N1 flu virus does not infect humans easily or often. However, it currently kills 60% of those it does infect. Experts fear that bird flu viruses might eventually genetically adapt so that they spread easily from human-to-human, resulting in a devastating flu pandemic. Bird flu is also known as avian flu.
The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) received notification from the Ministry of Health (MoH) on the 30th December concerning a suspected human case of influenza A (H5N1) in Shenzhen. The man has unfortunately died. The 39 year old male had been admitted to hospital on the 25th December because of severe pneumonia, the symptoms of which he'd been suffering from for several days prior to his admission. Officials are concerned because the man didn't appear to have travelled prior to his illness and it seems he had not had any contact with poultry either. The preliminary lab test results released by The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of Guangdong Province were positive for H5N1 virus. The CHP has announced that they will be maintaining close liaison with the Guangdong Department of Health to monitor the outcome of the patients case, and additionally they intend to heighten vigilance and continue to maintain strict protocols in the ports.
Authorities in Hong Kong have banned imports of poultry products from certain places in neighbouring Shenzhen, a major city in the south of Southern China's Guangdong Province, following the death there of a man confirmed as having the deadly form of bird flu known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1. On 31 December, Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department announced that an area of 13 km surrounding where the patient, a 39-year-old bus driver, lived is designated an "import control zone". "The decision was made after communicating with the Mainland authorities concerned in accordance with established guidelines, " they told the press. The ban will be in place for 21 days, with effect from 1 January, and covers the import of live poultry and poulty products, including eggs and chilled and frozen poultry.
First Molecular Evidence Links Live Poultry Markets to Human H5N1 Infection in China Sequences of H5N1 virus from live bird markets in China matched sequences from patients who had recently visited the live bird markets, according to a paper in the December 2011 Journal of Virology. Live poultry markets have long been suspected of providing the reservoir of H5N1 responsible for human cases, but this is the first molecular evidence linking H5N1 in humans to these markets, the authors say. "We collected 69 environmental samples - basically swabs from ditches, cages, floors, water, and so on - from the live bird markets, which six individual patients visited before disease onset, " during the 2008-2009 flu season, says corresponding author Yuelong Shu. "Among these 69 samples, we isolated a total of 12 highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza viruses from four of the six live bird markets.
Imagine this, our worst nightmare becomes our reality: as anticipated, the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus that kills most people it infects has acquired the ability to transmit easily from bird to human and then from human to human and has reached pandemic proportions. But, the origin of the outbreak isn't a naturally evolved strain, but one created in a research lab, with all the best intentions. This is not the plot for a new movie, but a real threat the US goverment says it is currently trying to avert when this week it asked scientists who have recently created a strain of H5N1 avian influenza that transmits easily in ferrets (whose response to flu is remarkably similar to ours) not to reveal all of its genetic blueprint when they publish the result of their studies. But, the move has heated up the debate about where you draw such a line, since, while no-one wants bio-terrorists to get hold of such a recipe, if researchers can't pool their knowledge then we hamper their ability to give us the best chance of averting or surviving a pandemic of a flu with a high kill rate.