The days of dire avian flu pandemic forecasts may one day be behind us. “The situation is really improving…it doesn’t mean that we can say that the situation globally is completely under control—we have the situation in countries where it is still quite entrenched—but it does mean that in the rest of the world there is a great deal of vigilance and action under way
,” said UN System Influenza Coordinator David Nabarrom recently.
He noted that government and private sector actors—particularly in the UK, South Korea, the United States, and Australia—have taken aggressive steps to prepare for an outbreak and have reduced the risk factors that lead to the spread of the disease. Also, he was pleased that Sanofi Pasteur, a pharmaceutical company, has donated 60 million H5N1 vaccines to a growing global stockpile.
Despite this progress, concerns remain. Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Indonesia have the highest incidence rates of the virus, with the prevalence of the disease in Indonesia particularly startling. In March, UN Food and Agriculture Organization Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said, “I am deeply concerned that the high level of virus circulation in birds in the country could create conditions for the virus to mutate and to finally cause a human influenza pandemic.”
Nabarrom credited international vigilance for the success we’ve had thus far. Although avian influenza has largely faded from the front page headlines, that vigilance must continue, as birds and people continue to die from avian flu. Hold the champagne bottles: There is still work to be done.