One third of UK GPs believe that mutation to a human form is fairly likely and four per cent think mutation this year is 'highly probable'.
Medical pessimism over the threat to humans presented by the H5N1 virus is revealed in the five-nation European Barometer survey of GPs in the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany carried out in December by research firm Stethos for GP and leading foreign medical magazines.
At least 200 GPs responded in each country. UK pessimism was equalled only in Germany, while concern was lower elsewhere (see box). In France and Spain only around a quarter of GPs believed mutation would occur this year. Doctors in Italy were most optimistic, with only one doctor in 12 anticipating mutation in 2006.
CMO Sir Liam Donaldson said in mid-October 2005 that a pandemic derived from avian flu was inevitable but unlikely to strike Britain this winter.
Surrey GP Dr Peter Stott said: 'In my view it's probably unlikely this year, but it may start. When it happens and we get human-to-human transmission, it will be very rapid.
'We assume that it's going to be virulent because the virus is virulent in birds and the human form carries the same antigen.'
Fewer than half of GPs had been asked any questions about avian flu by their patients. This figure was only 9 per cent of GPs in the UK.
Concern was rising highest among patients in Italy. Two thirds of Italian GPs said their patients were worried. Anxiety was also running high in France and Germany. The least worried patients were in Spain.
AVIAN FLU RESULTS
GPs who think there will be a human H5N1 virus in their country in the