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Bird Flu in North Korea Confirmed

Recombinomics Commentary
March 27, 2005

>>  North Korea says it has had a first outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus.
The state Korean Central News Agency said no people had been infected but hundreds of thousands of chickens had been culled and the carcasses burned.
The agency only said that the outbreak was "recent" and occurred at "two or three" chicken farms. It did not specify the virus type….

KCNA said Hadang farm in Pyongyang, among the city's largest, was one of the sites of the outbreak. <<

The announcement above confirms earlier media reports of avian influenza in North Korea.

Although North Korea did not specify the sub-type, culling hundreds of thousands of birds would indicate that this was HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza), and is likely to be H5N1.

Last season there was an outbreak of H5N1 in South Korea and isolates from a chicken, A/chicken/Korea/ES/03(H5N1), and duck , A/duck/Korea/ESD1/03(H5N1) were deposited at GenBank.

These 2003 isolates are closely related to a series of 2004 H5N1 isolates from Japan, A/chicken/Yamaguchi/7/2004(H5N1), A/chicken/Kyoto/3/2004(H5N1), A/crow/Kyoto/53/2004(H5N1), A/crow/Osaka/102/2004(H5N1),  A/chicken/Oita/8/2004(H5N1).

These isolates are closely related to the Z genotype found throughout eastern Asia, but are distinct from the isolates in Vietnam and Thailand.

In addition to H5N1 isolates in South Korea in 2003, a series of additional subtypes were found in South Korean live markets in 2003, including H3N2, H6N1, and H9N2.  The internal genes of these isolates are closely related to each other, although some have recombined with genes found in H9N2 isolates from Hong Kong.

In 2005, there was also a report of an H5N2 isolated in South Korea.  In addition, there have been a number of H9N2 and H1N1 swine isolates in South Korea, Six of the seven have human WSN/33 genes.  Although the WHO has not been able to prove or disprove the existence of these sequences in swine, the avian genes in these isolates are closely related to the 2003 H9N2 Korean isolates.  However, although these genes are clearly closest to the earlier Korean isolates, the avian genes in the 2004 swine isolates are distinct.  However, three of the genes in the six isolates are WSN/33-like.  If the sequences at GenBank are lab errors, it is unclear why there were no avian sequences for these three genes in any of the six swine isolates.

Because of the large number of birds culled in North Korea, more information on the sub-type and sequences of the HPAI would be important, especially if the sub-types were H5N1, H9N2, or H1N1.

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