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Vaccine development against influenza A (h5n1) virus 'should be made a priority'

Two studies in this week's issue of THE LANCET raise questions about the transmission of avian influenza viruses from chickens to humans. Marion Koopmans (National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, The Netherlands) and colleagues describe a large outbreak of avian influenza A/H7 in commercial poultry farms in the Netherlands in 2003. They note that the size of the outbreak, coinciding with peak activity of human influenza virus, reinforces the message that emergence of new pandemic influenza viruses might arise via the mixing of genes from avian and human viruses.

Marion Koopmans comments: We noted an unexpectedly high number of transmissions of avian influenza A virus subtype H7N7 to people directly involved in handling infected poultry, and we noted evidence for person-to-person transmission. Our data emphasise the importance of adequate surveillance, outbreak preparedness, and pandemic planning".

In a Research letter (p 617), Malik Peiris (University of Hong Kong) and colleagues suggest that some avian influenza viruses pose a substantial threat to human health, and after the re-emergence of H5N1 disease in humans, the authors draw our attention to the need to develop a vaccine against the virus.

In a Commentary (p 582), Maria Zambon (Health Protection Agency, UK) states that influenza A transmission from animals to humans remains a rare event, but one which history teaches us we must take seriously to avoid a further pandemic of influenza like that of 1918.


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Contact: Joe Santangelo
j.santangelo@elsevier.com
212-633-3810
Lancet
19-Feb-2004


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