Influenza expert warns of bird flu threat

Influenza expert Robert Webster recently warned health authorities that bird flu continues to remain a threat and could be the cause of the next global outbreak.

Webster, chairman of the virology and molecular biology department at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, told that people need to remain vigilant, pointing to the H1NI pandemic as an example.

In August, officials with the World Health Organization declared the swine flu pandemic over after 18,600 deaths worldwide. Initial estimates, however, led many to believe the pandemic would cost millions of lives.

“We may think we can relax and influenza is no longer a problem,” Webster told “”I want to assure you that that is not the case.”

Webster said that the next outbreak could emerge from water fowl, which could then be transmitted to pigs and then to humans, adding that H5N1, a type of flu virus, did just that, and has killed 300 people worldwide to date.

Although bird flu deaths have dropped worldwide for the most part, Webster told, they have started to rise in Egypt. Webster said that H5N1 kills 61 percent of humans who become infected. Fortunately, human-to-human transmission is not currently possible.

“But don't trust it because it could acquire that capacity,” Webster told “So we must stay vigilant.”