Australian study sparks fears of new flu virus pandemic

Australian study sparks fears of new flu virus pandemic
Health officers in protective clothing cull poultry at a wholesale market, as trade in live poultry suspended after a spot check at a local street market revealed the presence of H7N9 bird flu virus, in Hong Kong June 7, 2016. REUTERS / File
SYDNEY: An alarming increase in the number of new influenza viruses infecting humans has been highlighted by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia on Thursday, sparking fears of a global pandemic, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

"We went through all the different avian flu strains, when they evolved, when they infected humans," Co-author Raina MacIntyre explained to Xinhua.

"We looked at things like the number of deaths, how the virus persisted in human populations and we plotted the timeline when the different viruses emerged."

According to the study, the amount of new flu viruses in the past 10 years is unprecedented, with the changes causing concern for medical researchers.
"There is an increased risk that a bird flu strain will emerge that can cause a human pandemic," says lead researcher Chau Bui, a veterinarian who works on controlling epidemics.

"This urgency needs to be acknowledged by national and international pandemic planning organisations."

After the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918, it took 40 years for the next novel influenza virus to emerge.

It took another 10 years for the next strain after that.

But in the five years between 2011-2015, there has been seven new strains that have spread all over the world.

Bui believes stronger controls are needed to prevent new viruses spreading in birds, particularly poultry.

She says that more needs to be done to reduce the risk of transmission when humans interact with animals, in order to stop a pandemic.

It is unclear as to why the flu virus is changing so quickly, however some believe the reason may be down to changes in climate, urbanisation and agricultural practices, however the study cites that these factors have not changed at the same speed as the new viruses. -- Bernama