Jean Francois Saluzzo, a virologist for the World Health Organisation, is responsible for developing vaccines against emerging viruses. He spoke to EuroNews about the evolution of bird flu and what risks it poses to human health now that a cat has been confirmed has having died of the disease. “As far as its transmission to humans is concerned, the phenomenon is of no consequence because we have very efficient surveillance procedures here in Europe,” he says.
“There are plenty of cats in China and Vietnam which must also have died of the virus. We haven’t heard of these cases simply because the measures taken are often inadequate.”
EuroNews: The H5N1 virus was detected in Europe three years after it first emerged in Asia. What is likely to happen next?
JFS: “What’s happening in Europe now suggests that the virus will be dispersed throughout the entire world, so we’re expecting an enormous problem with bird flu, not human flu, but bird flu.”
“The problems involved in confining poultry could go on for months if not years because the virus is spread by migratory birds which wasn’t the case before. So, we’re going to have incidents everywhere and I expect it’ll be several years before we’re rid of the disease.”
“The virus hasn’t mutated into one that can be transmitted between humans yet and Europe won’t be the centre of such a pandemic because we’re well prepared. If someone or several people were diagnosed they’d be isolated immediately. We must concentrate our efforts on what happens in poorer countries, especially those in Africa where there’s a risk of the situation being catastrophic.”
EuroNews: Is progress being made towards producing a vaccine for humans if the virus develops?
“We believe the H5N1 vaccine that we’re developing must consist of two doses – up until now there’s only been a yearly dose against flu. Significant advances have already been made, but nevertheless we’ll probably need an immunisation booster program. Soon, we’ll have the perfect formula which will be used the day the pandemic emerges.”