Pandemic influenza in humans is a zoonotic disease caused by the transfer of influenza A viruses or virus gene segments from animal reservoirs. Influenza A viruses have been isolated from avian and mammalian hosts, although the primary reservoirs are the aquatic bird populations of the world. In the aquatic birds, influenza is asymptomatic, and the viruses are in evolutionary stasis. The aquatic bird viruses do not replicate well in humans, and these viruses need to reassort or adapt in an intermediate host before they emerge in human populations. Pigs can serve as a host for avian and human viruses and are logical candidates for the role of intermediate host. The transmission of avian H5N1 and H9N2 viruses directly to humans during the late 1990s showed that land-based poultry also can serve between aquatic birds and humans as intermediate hosts of influenza viruses. That these transmission events took place in Hong Kong and China adds further support to the hypothesis that Asia is an epicentre for influenza and stresses the importance of surveillance of pigs and live-bird markets in this area.