SOURCE: Avian Flu Talk

January 15, 2008 16:19 ET

Revised: OIE Chief's Downplaying of Pandemic Risk Draws Fire

STANTON, CA--(Marketwire - January 15, 2008) - The following information on this Press Release was copied from the CIDRAP Website issued by CIDRAP News on January 11, 2008. The complete article is available at:

Disease experts and preparedness advocates reacted negatively today to comments by the head of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Bernard Vallat, suggesting that the risk of an influenza pandemic posed by the H5N1 avian flu virus is minimal.

Vallat said, "The risk [of a pandemic] was overestimated." Concern a few years ago about a possibly imminent pandemic represented "just nonscientific supposition," he said.

An AFP account focused on Vallat's statements about the stability of the H5N1 virus. "We have never seen a virus which has been so stable for so long," Vallat was quoted as saying. "Compared to other viruses, it is extremely stable, which minimizes the risk of mutation" into a pandemic strain.

Despite the somewhat conflicting accounts, the other experts asserted that Vallat was sending the wrong signal.

Infectious disease expert Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, a leading pandemic preparedness proponent, recommended viewing the reports of Vallat's comments with caution because of their differences. Nonetheless, he took strong exception to the idea that the virus is stable and doesn't represent much of a threat.

"Regardless of what Dr. Vallat said, this virus is hardly stable," said Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, publisher of CIDRAP News. With multiple clades and subclades of the virus identified, he said, "This virus has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to change through mutation."

He said the virus is stable only in the sense that it seems to have found a permanent home in poultry and wild birds. "There is nothing in the foreseeable future to suggest that this virus is going to die out or somehow disappear through competition or attrition in the bird reservoir," he added.

Osterholm concluded, "Unfortunately, some have read this [Vallat's comments] to mean that the final chapter has been written on our concern about pandemic flu. There's nothing that could be further from the truth. We're closer today to the onset of the next pandemic than we were yesterday, but not as close as we'll be tomorrow." (CIDRAP News)

Distributed by: Avian Flu (Online discussion forum)

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