10 Facts About H5N1
While there has never been an H5N1 pandemic, there have been several cases across the globe since this flu strain first appeared in humans three decades ago. Here are 10 facts about H5N1 that you should know:

  1. The full name of the disease is Asian Avian Influenza A. It originated in bird populations in Southeast Asia, and has mainly affected that region. The countries that have reported the highest numbers of human cases are Indonesia, Egypt and Vietnam.
  2. H5N1 does not infect people easily. The disease only spreads person-to-person in cases of family members in close quarters with other sick family members. Otherwise, H5N1 is most commonly transmitted through contact with dead or diseased birds.
  3. Outbreaks in humans are sporadic and only 700 cases have been reported in total. At the same time, H5N1 has a high mortality rate of 60 percent.
  4. Transmission of the disease is not prevented by the standard flu vaccine. Several vaccines intended for H5N1 were developed, but none are completely effective.
  5. The first human H5N1 infection occurred in 1997, and the first infection in the Americas occurred in 2014 in Canada. The United States has yet to see a human case. However, the U.S. does stockpile H5N1 vaccines.
  6. If the disease mutates slightly, it could become much more easily communicable and cause a pandemic.
  7. H5N1 has the ability to progress and cause neurological problems such as seizures. The disease is rare but serious and goes beyond common flu symptoms such as fever and muscle aches.
  8. David Nabarro, former longtime chief avian flu coordinator for the United Nations, famously claimed on his first day on the job that he thought H5N1 could kill 150 million people. Although he has admitted to being an “alarmist,” Nabarro pointed out that nations with poor disease surveillance may fail to diagnose H5N1 in a timely fashion and that this could lead to widespread outbreaks.
  9. In March of this year, Malaysia experienced its first H5N1 outbreak in a decade. However, it only affected birds.
  10. A widespread misunderstanding of the disease has damaged poultry sales in the past. In 2006, Lebanon’s poultry sector lost millions of U.S. dollars despite the fact that no H5N1 cases were reported in the country and the disease cannot be transmitted as long as poultry is cooked properly.

Keeping these 10 facts about H5N1 in mind, educating people around the globe about H5N1 is an important pursuit. A misunderstanding of the disease could cause widespread panic as well as have economic and political repercussions.

Caroline Meyers

Photo: Flickr