Animal associations

Watch out for animal flu viruses that could trigger human pandemics

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With the lifting of border restrictions and quarantine regulations, Australians can anticipate the reintroduction of influenza, providing a unique opportunity to learn important lessons about the epidemiology of influenza epidemics and pandemics, say the authors of a editorial published today by the Australian Medical Journal.

Professor Kanta Subbarao, Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Influenza Reference and Research at the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, wrote that improving collaboration between animal public health sectors and human was crucial to detect and protect against influenza in 2022.

“While our primary focus is seasonal influenza, we must also remain vigilant for zoonotic and pandemic influenza viruses,” she wrote.

“Although seasonal influenza viruses were on hold in 2020-2021, there was widespread viral activity in animals globally and in our own region.

“Highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H7N7) and low pathogenic avian influenza A(H7N6) and A(H5N2) viruses have been reported in Victoria, and swine influenza viruses have been detected in several states .

“The reason for public health concerns is that new influenza viruses (e.g. animals) to which the human population has no immunity could spread and cause a global pandemic if they cross the species barrier to cause infections humans and spread effectively from person to person.

“Does this sound familiar? We’ve learned from COVID-19 that we ignore the animal-human interface at our peril.”

Professor Subbarao recommended four actions:

  • We need to establish surveillance at the animal-human interface, because focusing on viruses that can cross the species barrier is a great place to start.
  • We need to invest in subtyping more influenza A viruses than we do (Box, B), because failure to subtype H1 or H3 may be the only indication that an animal virus has infected a human.
  • We need to improve communications between the animal and human public health sectors so that we can institute active surveillance of those involved in the slaughter of large numbers of infected animals.
  • We must work through public-private partnerships to reduce barriers to surveillance at the animal-human interface.

“Such efforts will be beneficial beyond influenza: the COVID-19 pandemic and recent reports of a novel Hendra virus genotype in Australian flying foxes are prime reminders that other animal viruses that can cross species barriers are worth monitoring,” she concluded.

Reconstruction of the ancestral sequence of avian influenza virus transmission in pigs

More information:
Kanta Subbarao, What influenza activity can we expect in 2022?, Australian Medical Journal (2022). DOI: 10.5694/mja2.51437

Provided by Medical Journal of Australia

Quote: Beware of animal flu viruses that could trigger human pandemics (March 7, 2022) retrieved March 7, 2022 from

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