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 about 50% of those infected. Scientists are unsure if H5N1 will cause the next influenza pandemic, but there is general consensus that one is overdue. Flue pandemics have occurred cyclically, roughly between every 30 and 50 years. Since 1997, when the first human contacted 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. For FY2006, Congress has provided $25 million for global initiatives to prepare for pandemic influenza through Foreign Operations appropriations; directed $33.5 million to global disease detection through Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations; and reserved for international avian flu efforts a portion of $3.8 billion through Defense appropriations. Bills introduced in the 109th Congress would
increase U.S. resources allocated to the global fight against avian flu; develop a "Pandemic Fund" to augment ongoing U.S. and international avian flu and pandemic preparedness initiatives; increase funding for preventing the spread among animals of the H5N1 virus; and strengthen surveillance capacity within affected countries. This report will provide an up-to-date account of global H5N1-related human infections and deaths, outline U.S. government and international responses to the global spread of H5N1, discuss situations in various countries affected by H5N1, and present some foreign policy issues for Congress.