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Improving global influenza surveillance: trends of A(H5N1) virus in Africa and Asia

Magdalena Escorcia1, Matias S Attene-Ramos2, Marco Juarez Estrada1 and Gerardo M Nava3*

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Medicina y Zootecnia de Aves. Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, DF 04510, Mexico

2 NIH Chemical Genomics Center, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH, 9800 Medical Center Drive, Rockville, MD 20850, USA

3 Dept. Pathology and Immunology, Washington University School of Medicine, Box 8118, 660 S. Euclid Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:62  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-62

Published: 23 January 2012



Highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N1) viruses are an important health problem in many Asian and African countries. The current increase in human cases demonstrates that influenza A(H5N1) is still a significant global pandemic threat. Many health organizations have recognized the need for new strategies to improve influenza global surveillance. Specifically, the World Health Organization through the global technical consultation for influenza surveillance have called for a detailed picture of the current limitations, especially at the nation level, to evaluate, standardize and strength reporting systems. The main goal of our study is to demonstrate the value of genetic surveillance as part of a strategic surveillance plan. As a proof of concept, we evaluated the current situation of influenza A(H5N1) in Asian and Africa.


Our analysis revealed a power-law distribution in the number of sequences of A(H5N1) viruses analyzed and/or reported to influenza surveillance networks. The majority of the Asian and African countries at great risk of A(H5N1) infections have very few (approximately three orders of magnitude) sequenced A(H5N1) viruses (e.g. hemagglutinin genes). This suggests that countries under pandemic alert for avian influenza A(H5N1) have very limited participation (e.g. data generation, genetic analysis and data share) in avian influenza A(H5N1) surveillance. More important, this study demonstrates the usefulness of influenza genetic surveillance to detect emerging pandemic threat viruses.


Our study reveals that some countries suffering from human cases of avian influenza have limited participation (e.g. genetic surveillance or data share) with global surveillance networks. Also, we demonstrate that the implementation of genetic surveillance programs could increase and strengthen worldwide epidemic and pandemic preparedness. We hope that this work promotes new discussions between policy makers and health surveillance organizations to improve current methodologies and regulations.