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H5N1 in Dead Swans in England Likely

Recombinomics Commentary 14:22
January 10, 2008

Three dead swans found on a nature reserve in Dorset were today found to have been carrying the lethal strain of bird flu, sparking fears that the virus had again landed on Britain's shores.

Urgent tests were under way to check the other birds and ducks at the swannery in Abbotsbury, where the dead mute swans were found in the past 48 hours. The department for the environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) was expected to issue a statement later this today to confirm that the H5N1 strain had been found in the birds.

The above comments strongly suggest that the Uva Lake strain of H5N1 in wild birds in England (see satellite map for location) will be announced shortly.  48 hours is enough time to confirm H5N1, and wild waterfowl are generally resistant to avian influenza.  However, dead mute swans are frequently killed by H5N1.

The earlier outbreak of H5N1 in free range turkeys indicated H5N1 was flying around undetected in England.  The turkeys were infected with the Uva Lake strain, which had been found in wild birds in Germany, the Czech Republic, and France over the summer.  It was then found in a whooper swan in Krasnodar in September.  More recently the outbreaks in northern Germany and Romania have involved the Uva Lake strain, strongly suggesting that outbreaks in Poland and Rostov will also be the Uva Lake strain.

Thus, it is increasingly clear that H5N1 has spread throughout Europe, and those countries that have not reported H5N1 in recent weeks have a poor surveillance system.

This will be the first time DEFRA has found H5N1 in a wild bird that did not wash up on its shores, as happened in Scotland two years ago (those sequences were just released, almost two years after collection).  DEFRA, like most surveillance systems in Europe have yet to find H5N1 in live wild birds, further confirming major limitations in the surveillance system.  In addition to failing to detect H5N1, these agencies hoard the sequence data.  DEFRA has not released the sequences from the earlier outbreak in Suffolk, and Weybridge is still holding sequences from October, 2005 from the outbreak in Romania.  Similarly, Weybridge, acting as a WHO regional center, is mailed samples for Europe, the Middle East, south Asia, and Africa, and continues to hoard the sequences.

The time for release of the data has long since passed.

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