Prevention and Control of the Avian Influenza Virus


This discussion represents the third installment in my series on avian influenza virus, which I hope will help you better understand this virus. There is no question that the primary goal of public health officials is to prevent the emergence of a pandemic of avian influenza virus. Current efforts to control its spread has ranged from basic monitoring of poultry to sophisticated vaccine and drug development. As noted in the first two installments, influenza viruses are extremely contagious, and any hope of stopping a new pandemic hinges on public health officials being able to quickly spot the problem, kill all the birds in an infected flock, and quarantine the people infected with the virus. Most authorities believe stopping a potential pandemic at the initial onset is a better option than either trying to immunize most everyone against the virus or making large quantities of antiviral drugs. It should be noted, however, that it is extremely difficult to halt an outbreak that is as contagious as the flu virus. Indeed, it has been estimated that if a virus with pandemic potential that can be easily spread among humans were to develop anywhere on earth, the World Health Organization would have no more than three weeks to help the affected country quarantine all the infected people and their close contacts who might be carrying the virus.

Many governments including the U.S. have defined a National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan that commits this country to working with the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza to push for transparency and scientific cooperation among nations. This plan will provide 1) sharing of data and viral isolates, and 2) rapid reporting of both human and animal cases. In addition, the U.S. is committed to 1) providing technical assistance, 2) building veterinary and public health care facilities in countries where bird flu is likely to spread, and 3) helping detect and contain animal and human outbreaks of avian influenza including development and exercise of preparedness plans.

In essence, the key items recommended to help prevent spread of avian influenza among humans—if and when a pandemic should emerge—will include 1) infection control, that is, isolating cases and outbreaks, and the possible use of masks, 2) monitoring incoming travelers, 3) use of antiviral agents for both prophylaxis and therapy, and 4) immunization.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...