New models to predict pandemic flu

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles are creating new means to predict where a major new influenza outbreak is likely to emerge.

Experts fear of what would happen in the event of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza becoming more easily transmissible in humans and are using their research to find ways to prepare.

"Using surveillance of influenza cases in humans and birds, we've come up with a technique to predict sites where these viruses could mix and generate a future pandemic," Trevon Fuller of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability's Center for Tropical Research said. Fuller is the lead author of the study.

The newly developed models show that coastal and central China and the Nile Delta in Egypt are the most likely locations for avian influenza to potentially combine with human flu to create a pandemic strain. With this information governments will be able to prioritize these areas to increase disease surveillance among humans, livestock, poultry and wild birds.

"The mixing of genetic material between the seasonal human flu virus and bird flu can create novel virus strains that are more lethal than either of the original viruses," senior author Thomas Smith said. Smith is the director of the Center for Tropical Research and a professor with the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.