The bird flu: a new emerging pandemic threat and its pharmacological intervention

Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2007 Jul;1(2):277-83.

Abstract

Bird flu is an infection caused by avian influenza viruses, which are of different types A, B and C. Type A avian influenza viruses are the most frequently associated with avian influenza epidemics and pandemics. There are 16 hemagglutinin (H1 to H16) and 9 neuraminidase types (N1 to N9) identified till date. A peculiar characteristic of influenza A viruses is their propensity for genetic change by two main processes: antigenic drift (small, gradual changes) and antigenic shift (abrupt, major change producing a novel influenza A virus subtype).There are various modes of transmission of human influenza including inhalation, direct or indirect (fomite) contact etc., can have manifestations ranging from mild to severe or fatal disease, depend on the viral subtype causing the disease. Avian influenza A (H5N1) results in high death rate amongst infants and young children.The first outbreak of human infection by avian influenza viruses (H5N1) was observed in 1997 in Hong Kong. Since then a large number of outbreaks have been reported in different parts of the world. In fact, the spread of avian influenza H5N1 in various species including humans has lead to a current pandemic threat.Human avian influenza infections in persons at high risk of exposure can be prevented by adopting a series of protective measures, anti-viral vaccination and health monitoring. Drugs currently available for the treatment or prophylaxis of influenza infections include the adamantanes (amantadine and rimantadine) and the newer class of neuraminidase inhibitors (zanamivir, oseltamivir and peramivir). However, vaccines are considered the first line of defense for reducing the excess morbidity and mortality that invariably accompany pandemics and a number of clinical trials are under way to test them.