Introduction to bird flu
The World Health Organisation has a set of pages devoted to bird flu, or avian influenza as it is more correctly called. The virus that causes bird flu was first isolated in 1996 from a goose in the Guangdong province of China. Named the H5N1 virus, it started causing problems in birds in 1997. The first human cases occurred in 2003. So far, the virus has infected humans from birds. People affected tend to live in rural regions, where chickens, geese and ducks are kept as domestic animals, and are in close contact with the farmers. So far, the virus has not been able to pass from person to person. If it mutates and gains this ability, experts fear that there could be a pandemic - a global epidemic of bird flu.
This could have a similar effect to the 1918 flu pandemic, which swept the world just after World War I and killed maybe as many as 100 million people. Bird flu virus is highly pathogenic - it affects young and fit people as well as the very young and the very elderly, and has a high fatality rate. Currently, scientists from organisations such as the World Health Organisation are monitoring cases, and other organisations and pharmaceutical companies are trying to prepare and effective flu vaccine that protects against the H5N1 bird flu virus.
News headlines on bird flu