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H5N1 Confirmed in England
February 3, 2007
An outbreak of bird flu on a farm run by Europe's biggest turkey manufacturer Bernard Matthews is the highly pathogenic H5N1 version of the virus which can kill humans, the European Commission said on Saturday.
The confirmation of H5N1 in England is not a surprise. The increasing number of dead turkeys, coupled with the H5 confirmation, made detection of Qinghai H5N1 a near certainty. Sequences of Qinghai H5N1 in Egypt also pointed toward H5N1 in England and neighboring countries, because the codon for M230I in the majority of the birds matched the codon from M230I in H7N3 detected in England last season.
More information on sequences is lacking, because the vast majority of Qinghai sequences generated in the 2005/2006 outbreak in Europe and the Middle East are still sequestered in the WHO password protected database at Los Alamos. Most of the hoarded sequences were generated by Weybridge, the same agency that confirmed the H5N1 in England. Although promises of release have been made for over a year, these H5N1 sequences remain hidden.
The confirmation of H5N1 in England also raises concern about the failure of neighboring European countries to detect or report H5N1 this season. Hungary and Krosnodar have confirmed H5N1, as has Egypt, but the vast majority of Eurpean countries have remained silent, as they did last season untl H5N1 was confirmed in fatal infections in Turkey in Januray, 2006.
The Qinghai strain of H5N1 is transported and transmitted by migratory birds that blanket Europe. However, the surveillance programs in the region have largely failed to confirm the H5N1 in the region this season.
In Egypt, the Tamiflu resistance marker, NA N294S, has been reported in the Gharbiya cluster in samples collected prior to treatment. The distribution of N294S has remained unclear because of a lack of reporting in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Sequences from last season link the Egyptian sequences to Qinghai isolates in Germany and Italy in Europe, as well as Lagos, Nigeria in western Africa.
The surveillance in the region remains scandalously poor, and the continued hoarding of H5N1 sequences by the WHO and Weybridge is beyond scandalous.