Bird Flu - Introduction
With alarm growing over the possibility of a bird flu pandemic including claims that as many as 150 million people could die this website was launched in October 2005 as a resource for the latest information.
Flu viruses occur naturally in birds and have been recognized for more than 100 years. They are popularly known as bird flu, avian flu, bird influenza or avian influenza, and there are more than a dozen sub-types. They are often carried by wild birds, though it is usually domesticated birds that become sick. Generally, the viruses do not affect humans, or cause mild illness at worst.
However, at some point the H5N1 strain of the virus reportedly first isolated from a bird in Scotland in 1959 - began circulating among poultry in parts of Asia. Then, in 1997, the virus erupted in a highly pathogenic form in Hong Kong, spreading to humans. It caused severe respiratory illness in 18 people, of whom six died.
The next significant outbreak came at the end of 2003 and early in 2004, with reports of the virus in eight countries Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Two of these countries Vietnam and Thailand reported human infections and deaths.
Since then, there have been a series of outbreaks, mainly in Asia, with Vietnam the worst affected. There have also been the first reports of possible human-to-human infection.
In January 2005, a report from the World Health Organization warned: During 2004, the world moved closer to a further pandemic than it has been at any time since 1968. And in September 2005, a United Nations official said a new flu pandemic could kill between five million and 150 million people worldwide.
The current series of outbreaks is dated as from late-December 2003. Since that time, WHO has reported human infections in 10 countries, and has confirmed the following number of human cases and deaths, up until early June 2007. Please note that these are confirmed (by WHO) cases only. It is generally assumed that the actual number of cases is higher than the official figures.