A concise review in CMAJ provides more useful information on avian flu. It briefly sketches the history of the infection since the 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong. Unique clinical features are primary viral pneumonia (as opposed to secondary bacterial pneumonia more characteristic of ordinary flu) and the occurrence of severe infections in young healthy hosts. Unique features of influenza promote genetic shift: 1) the lack of a proofreading mechanism during replication, thus allowing easier mutation and 2) organization of its RNA in the form of 8 separate strands which enables swapping of genetic material between strains when co infection occurs.
Is there evidence that we are actually moving toward a pandemic? The article cites evidence from observations of animal infections that the virus may be changing. The significance of these observations concerning the risk of a pandemic is far from clear. Links to WHO guidelines for infection control and treatment of avian flu cases are provided.