The H5N1 virus appears almost ready for prime time:
Evidence from South-east Asia suggests that the virus, which could kill tens of millions of people worldwide, is becoming less virulent, but at the same time more infectious to people.
Death rates from the virus have plunged in northern Vietnam, says the World Health Organisation (WHO), though it is still killing more of its victims than any previous outbreak. The instances where it appears to have spread from person to person are rising.
Six weeks ago, The Independent on Sunday revealed that the Government had told mortuaries and emergency services to prepare for up to 750,000 deaths from the disease in Britain.
A virus is a pandemic threat when it meets three conditions:
- Humans have little immunity to it;
- It is able to infect people;
- It mutates so that it is spreads easily from person to person.
H5N1 has met the first two. It looks like it’s ready to meet the third.