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Fukushima Radiation Raises H5N1 Pandemic Concerns
Recombinomics Commentary 13:13
March 17, 2011

The continuous release of radiation from the Fukushiam Daiichi nuclear plant has increased H5N1 pandemic concerns. Recently released H5N1 sequences from a duck in Fukushima, A/duck/Fukushima/2/2011, have receptor binding domain (RBD) change S227R, which was also present in a whooper swan sequence from Hokkaido,A/whooper swan/Hokkaido/4/2011,indicating this change is widespread in northern Japan. These changes are on a clade 2.3.2 genetic background that also has V223I and M230I, changes found in H5N1 from the Gharbiya cluster in Egypt.

The radiation released at the Daiichi plant is forecast to go east to the Aleutian Island, and the back over Russia, China, and Korea, where H5N1 is circulating in wild birds. Exposure of H5N1 to ionizing radiation can lead to rapid genetic change, which may increase the ability of H5N1 to transmit in humans.

Moreover, the earthquake and tsunami have led to overcrowding conditions in displaced persons, which would also favor viral spread. Recent two H5N1 cases in Bangladesh were detected with swabs from the upper respiratory tract, signaling a greater ease of transmission in humans.

Thus, the radiation release demands close monitoring of H5N1 currently circulating in wild birds and poultry in Japan and South Korea, as well as humans in the region with upper respiratory tract infections.

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