In human history, influenza pandemics caused by novel virus strains had led to significant morbidity, mortality and economic loss globally. Three pandemics occurred in the last century – in 1918/19 (‘Spanish flu’), 1957/58 (‘Asian flu’) and 1968/69 (‘Hong Kong flu’). The most severe – that of 1918/19 – is estimated to have killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide, a greater
toll than the whole of the First World War.
In Hong Kong, we have already faced the challenge of the first avian influenza outbreak of H5N1 in 1997 which resulted in 18 people being infected of which six died. The outbreak was brought under control with intensive collaborative Government efforts on depopulation of all live chickens. Sporadic cases of avian influenza, though, have been identified: H9N2 (2 cases in 1999, 2 cases in 2000), H5N1 (2 cases in 2003).
Since January 2004, Thailand and Viet Nam reported their first human cases of avian influenza, caused by the H5N1 subtype of Influenza A virus. These cases were directly linked to historically unprecedented outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in poultry that began in 2003 and rapidly affected eight Asian nations.
Evidence indicates that H5N1 virus is now endemic in parts of Asia, having established a permanent ecological niche in poultry. According to the assessment by the World Health Organisation (WHO), all prerequisites for the start of an influenza pandemic were met save one: efficient human-to-human transmission. WHO called for all countries and economies to develop plans for better preparedness and response for this global threat.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is committed to safeguarding the health of the community. Our effort in controlling the 1997 avian influenza outbreak has been commended by international experts in having averted a possible impending pandemic.
Read complete Avian influenza plan here. (.PDF)