WHO warns of possible avian flu pandemic

The outbreak of avian flu currently affecting five regions across the United Kingdom is just the most recent in a string of viral flare ups involving different strains of the avian flu virus infecting people in more than 40 countries since November 2016, according to the World Health Organization.

The recent influx of avian flu outbreaks around the globe has generated concern among infectious disease experts about potential mutation.

"The concern always is that they could pick up a gene that permits that kind of flu to spread readily from person to person," William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., told ABC News. "[Right now] bird flu by itself cannot do that."

Such a mutation could mean viral distribution on a pandemic scale. The recent circulation of multiple strains of avian flu drew stern warnings from Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, during a meeting of the health organization's executive board.

"I am asking all countries to keep a close watch over outbreaks of avian influenza in birds and related human cases," said Dr. Chan. "The rapidly expanding geographical distribution of these outbreaks and the number of virus strains currently co-circulating have put WHO on high alert ... In the most recent two clusters, WHO could not rule out limited human-to-human transmission, though no sustained transmission has been detected to date. As required by the international health regulations, all countries must detect and report human cases promptly. We cannot afford to miss the early signals."

More articles on infection control: 
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