Information on Specific Flu Outbreaks
In 1997, another "near miss" pandemic occurred when 18 people in Hong Kong became ill from a new flu virus. Six of the infected people subsequently died. Usually, flu viruses move first from chickens to pigs, and then from pigs to humans. This virus was different because it moved directly from chickens to people.
However, this avian or bird flu never became a pandemic because it didn't easily spread from person to person. In addition, public health authorities ordered the slaughter of all live chickens in Hong Kong.
(Click Bird Flu for more information about this type of flu.)
In 1999, two children in Hong Kong were infected with a flu virus that usually infects birds. They were the first confirmed human infections by this virus, and both children recovered. Although other infections from this virus were reported from China, there have been no cases since April 1999.
In 2003, one flu strain, labeled H5N1, caused two Hong Kong family members to be hospitalized after a visit to China, killing one of them, a 33-year-old man. (A third family member died while in China of an undiagnosed respiratory illness.)
As of January 21, 2005, H5N1 has caused illness in 52 people in Thailand and Vietnam, 37 of whom died. Researchers are especially concerned because this flu strain, which is transmitted by birds and is quite deadly, is becoming endemic in Asia. From 2003 to the present, several other strains of bird flu have caused illness in Egypt, Canada, and the Netherlands.