Testing of human specimens for the presence of highly pathogenic zoonotic avian influenza virus A(H5N1) in Poland in 2006-2008 - justified or unnecessary steps?

National Influenza Centre, National Institute of Public Health - National Institute of Hygiene, ul. Chocimska 24, 00-791 Warsaw, Poland. nic@pzh.gov.pl
Ann Agric Environ Med 2009;16(2):239–247
Since 1997, human infections with highly pathogenic zoonotic avian influenza viruses have shown that the risk of influenza pandemic is significant. In Europe, infections caused by the highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H7N7) virus were confirmed in the human population in 2003 in the Netherlands. Moreover, outbreaks of A(H5N1) infections were observed in wild and farm birds in different European regions, including Poland in 2006-2008. This study presents 16 patients in Poland from whom clinical specimens were collected and tested for A(H5N1) highly pathogenic avian influenza. This article shows the results of laboratory tests and discusses the legitimacy of the collection and testing of the specimens. All patients were negative for A(H5N1) infection. Nevertheless, only two patients met clinical and epidemiological criteria from the avian influenza case definition. The conclusion is that there is still a strong necessity for increasing the awareness of medical and laboratory staff, as well as the awareness of some occupational groups about human infections with avian influenza viruses, including the importance of seasonal influenza vaccination. It should also be emphasized that in the case of patients suspected of being infected with avian influenza, the information about clinical symptoms is insufficient and must be accompanied by a wide epidemiological investigation.