(Highly pathogenic) avian influenza as a zoonotic agent.Vet Microbiol 2010; 140(3-4):237-45VM
Zoonotic agents challenging the world every year afresh are influenza A viruses. In the past, human pandemics caused by influenza A viruses had been occurring periodically. Wild aquatic birds are carriers of the full variety of influenza virus A subtypes, and thus, most probably constitute the natural reservoir of all influenza A viruses. Whereas avian influenza viruses in their natural avian reservoir are generally of low pathogenicity (LPAIV), some have gained virulence by mutation after transmission and adaptation to susceptible gallinaceous poultry. Those so-called highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) then cause mass die-offs in susceptible birds and lead to tremendous economical losses when poultry is affected. Besides a number of avian influenza virus subtypes that have sporadically infected mammals, the HPAIV H5N1 Asia shows strong zoonotic characteristics and it was transmitted from birds to different mammalian species including humans. Theoretically, pandemic viruses might derive directly from avian influenza viruses or arise after genetic reassortment between viruses of avian and mammalian origin. So far, HPAIV H5N1 already meets two conditions for a pandemic virus: as a new subtype it has been hitherto unseen in the human population and it has infected at least 438 people, and caused severe illness and high lethality in 262 humans to date (August 2009). The acquisition of efficient human-to-human transmission would complete the emergence of a new pandemic virus. Therefore, fighting H5N1 at its source is the prerequisite to reduce pandemic risks posed by this virus. Other influenza viruses regarded as pandemic candidates derive from subtypes H2, H7, and H9 all of which have infected humans in the past. Here, we will give a comprehensive overview on avian influenza viruses in concern to their zoonotic potential.