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Rev Sci Tech. 2009 Apr;28(1):161-73.

Avian influenza viruses in humans.

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  • 1University of Hong Kong, State Key Laboratory for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Department of Microbiology, People's Republic of China.


Past pandemics arose from low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) viruses. In more recent times, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1, LPAI H9N2 and both HPAI and LPAI H7 viruses have repeatedly caused zoonotic disease in humans. Such infections did not lead to sustained human-to-human transmission. Experimental infection of human volunteers and seroepidemiological studies suggest that avian influenza viruses of other subtypes may also infect humans. Viruses of the H7 subtype appear to have a predilection to cause conjunctivitis and influenza-like illness (ILI), although HPAI H7N7 virus has also caused fatal respiratory disease. Low pathogenic H9N2 viruses have caused mild ILI and its occurrence may be under-recognised for this reason. In contrast, contemporary HPAI H5N1 viruses are exceptional in their virulence for humans and differ from human seasonal influenza viruses in their pathogenesis. Patients have a primary viral pneumonia progressing to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and multiple organ dysfunction syndrome. Over 380 human cases have been confirmed to date, with an overall case fatality of 63%. The zoonotic transmission of avian influenza is a rare occurrence, butthe greater public health concern is the adaptation of such viruses to efficient human transmission, which could lead to a pandemic. A better understanding of the ecology of avian influenza viruses and the biological determinants of transmissibility and pathogenicity in humans is important for pandemic preparedness.

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