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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

H5N1 On The Wing

See Recombinomics, who correctly predicted that the H5N1 outbreak at Qinghai Lake in China meant that the new strain would show up in Russia and Siberia. Now Dr. Niman is writing that the strain is headed south to Taiwan, back to India and west to Europe.

In Mongolia they quarantined humans near a lake outbreak.

The Omsk and Kurgan regions have experienced a sudden jump in bird deaths. That is quite close to Europe:
The ministry said in a note the total number of bird deaths jumped to 8,347 on Wednesday from 5,583 on Tuesday in an epidemic that has been spreading in Russia's Siberia since mid-July.

"There have been no cases of people getting ill," the ministry said. "A number of measures are being carried out to prevent the disease from spreading further."

The news came just a day after a World Health Organisation official said the Russian epidemic was subsiding and should disappear by late August.
Who knows when the infection will reach Alaska? I guess I will not rely on WHO to tell me. The University of Alaska is conducting a sampling program to detect it. Testing of the samples is supposed to be done before December of this year with sequencing next year:
· Summer 2005 in Alaska – Avian swabs and environmental samples collected in the field in Alaska will be shipped to Armed Forces Institues of Pathology (alcohol preserved) or Ohio State University (frozen samples) for culture and characterization of the isolates.

· Before December 2005 - Screening for presence of influenza virus by PCR at AFIP, Ohio State, and the University of Alaska.

· Before June 2006 - culture of isolates, sequencing of isolates and submission of all sequences to GenBank.

· December 2006 - Bioinformatic analyses of sequence data will have begun.
Mongolia and Siberia are certainly close enough that the infected birds (a lot of whom aren't terribly ill - they can fly) should be able to make it to Alaska. I'm not seeing much of a sense of urgency in the timeline above.

Obviously these strains aren't transmitting from humans to humans yet, but neither does West Nile Virus. Once the infected birds reach the US I suppose we will, at a minimum, see a WNV-like pattern of spread and eventual infections in humans here. Life in the swamps could get quite interesting in a year or two.

And if it manages to evolve into a form that spreads efficiently from one human to another life will get interesting. Everyone's talking about the Spanish flu these days, which struck in 1917-1918. This is a summary of why health professionals are concerned.

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