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WHO Sending Human H5N1 Test Kits to North Korea

Recombinomics Commentary
March 30, 2005

>>  The WHO country office in Pyongyang has offered direct assistance to the Ministry of Public Health in strengthening surveillance and diagnostic capacity for the detection of possible human cases. WHO has offered to send oseltamivir, an antiviral drug that can be used prophylactically, to reduce the risk of human infection and disease, as well as therapeutically…..

WHO is this week despatching test kits to support laboratory diagnosis of H5-subtype avian influenza in humans. Further assistance has been offered in the form of training of local staff in laboratory diagnosis and surveillance.

In monitoring the outbreak, WHO staff in Pyongyang are working closely with the FAO local and regional offices, which are also offering specialized expertise. <<

The outbreak of bird flu in North Korea has led to considerable speculation about the extent of the spread, as well as the subtype of the virus.  Since reports indicate that hundreds of thousands of birds have been culled, HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza) is likely, and most of the HPAI in Asia has been H5N1.

Increased border patrols and inspections have led to speculation that there may be human cases, although none have been reported.  However, the WHO has had discussions with the government of North Korea, and in today's announcement by the WHO, offered the antiviral drug, Tamiflu (oseltamivir).  Tamiflu is the only FDA approved anti-viral drug for prevention of bird flu, and has been show to have in vitro efficacy against the H5N1 isolates from Thailand and Vietnam.

These isolates are unique, because they have two mutations in the M2 gene which make the virus resistant to two other antivials, Amantadine and Rimantadine, which are less expensive and more widely available.  Thus far, the only reported human cases are linked to the H5N1 isolates from Vietnam and Thailand.

Dispatching of H5 human diagnostic kits is also cause for concern, raising the possibility that the infections in North Korea are H5N1 and it has spread to humans.

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