Is avian influenza virus A(H5N1) a real threat to human health?


The A(H5N1) influenza remains a disease of birds with a significant species barrier: in the presence of some tens million cases of infection in poultry - with a wide geographical spread -, only a few hundreds cases have occurred in humans. To date, human cases have been reported in 15 countries - mainly in Asia - and all were related to the onset of outbreaks in poultry. A peak of H5N1 human cases was recorded in 2006, then decreasing in subsequent years. Despite this trend, the H5N1 virus still represents a possible threat to human health, considering that more than half of human cases of H5N1 have been fatal. Moreover, despite the drop in the number of cases, the risk of a novel pandemic cannot be excluded, since H5N1 continues to circulate in poultry in countries with elevated human population density and where monitoring systems are not fully appropriate. In addition, there is a major global concern about the potential occurrence of a reassortment between the 2009 pandemic H1N1 and the highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza viruses following a co-infection in a susceptible host. Therefore, the implementation of appropriate surveillance and containment measures is crucial in order to minimize such risk. In conclusion, H5N1 avian influenza is still a rare disease in humans but its clinical severe outcome requires a careful monitoring of the virus?s ability to evolve and to trigger a new pandemic.