U.S. and International Responses to the Global Spread of Avian Flu: Issues for Congress [Updated January 9, 2006] [open pdf - 284KB]
"One strain of avian influenza currently identified in Asia and Europe is known as Influenza A/H5N1. Although it is a bird flu, it has infected a relatively small number of people - killing around 50% of those infected. Scientists are unsure if H5N1 will cause the next influenza pandemic, but there is general consensus that one is overdue. Flu pandemics have occurred cyclically, roughly between every 30 and 50 years. Since 1997, when the first human contracted H5N1 in Hong Kong, the virus has resurfaced and spread to more than a dozen countries in Asia and Europe - infecting more than 140 people and killing approximately half. Britain and Taiwan both reported avian flu cases of H5N1 in 2005. In the latter cases, the infected birds were identified as imports, and died in quarantine. A global influenza pandemic could have a number of consequences. Global competition for existing vaccines and treatments could ensue. Some governments might restrict the export of vaccines or other supplies in order to treat their own population. Some countries might face a shortage of vaccines, antiviral medication, or other medical equipment, because of limited global supply. Hospitality and airline industries, and international trade could be negatively impacted. If global travel and trade were to suddenly drop, there could be productivity losses and service disruptions. Essential workers might become ill or stay home out of fear of contracting the virus. Such workers could include law enforcement, medical personnel, mass transit drivers and engineers, and other crucial emergency personnel."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33219