Hatching ideas: Ilaria Capua’s column

Hatching ideas: Ilaria Capua’s column

One Health, One Flu?

Dr Ilaria Capua 1 May, 2012

The emergence and spread of the pandemic H1N1 2009 virus from the animal reservoir raises questions on the future approach to influenza virus infections. Evidence demonstrates that influenza virus genes migrate across continents and animal species assembling themselves in combinations which threaten animal and human health, resulting in panzootics like H5N1 or pandemics H1N1 2009. The latter originated from the animal reservoir, containing a unique combination of genes from three species and two hemispheres. Mapping gene movements across species and national borders and identifying mutations and gene constellations with pandemic potential or virulence determinants is essential to enact prevention and control strategies at a global level. 

Vast improvements in capacity building have been achieved following the H5N1 global crisis. Thousands of viral isolates with zoonotic potential have been obtained through surveillance efforts, although the genetic information has not been exploited fully. Furthermore, the circulation of influenza viruses in certain species including dogs, pigs and horses has been neglected.

“One Flu” is a novel approach to influenza virus infections, in line with the “One Health” vision, abandoning prefixed compartments linked to geographical origin or species of isolation, aiming at analysing the influenza gene pool as one entity. It would capitalise on existing achievements and investments to develop an international network and a permanent observatory to improve our understanding of the dynamics of the influenza virus gene pool in animals and humans. This will generate crucial information to support both public and animal health. The “One Flu” initiative would also result in international synergies, bridging gaps between medical and veterinary scientists, permanent monitoring of virus evolution and epidemiology and the best exploitation of investments in capacity building. Above all it could be a challenge and opportunity to implement the “One Health” vision, and possibly act as a model for other emerging zoonotic diseases.


Ilaria Capua