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Qinghai Lake Revisited

Recombinomics Commentary

May 5, 2006

The Ministry of Agriculture said that 125 migratory birds, all but two of them bar-headed geese, have died in the outbreak first detected Apr. 23 in Qinghai province.

The Agriculture Ministry said that after herders and forestry officials first reported finding dead bar-headed geese on April 23 in Qinghai's Yushu county

In addition to bar-headed geese, a brown-headed gull and a ruddy shelduck were also found dead

The above comments are remarkably similar to the May 21, 2005 OIE report which described 519 H5N1 positive dead birds at Qinghai Lake:

including bar-headed geese (Anser indicus), great black-headed gulls (Larus ichthyaetus), brown-headed gulls (Larus brunnicephalus), ruddy shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) and great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo).

The initial May 9 report described 189 bar-headed geese that had died.  The number of dead birds eventually topped 5000 and the vast majority were bar-headed geese.

The current report includes bar-headed geese in Yushu county, which is southeast of Gangcha county, the location of Qinghai Lake, suggesting additional deaths at Qinghai Lake are likely.

The sequence of the new isolates will be of interest.  Sequences of 16 isolates from the 2005 outbreak were similar with each other and distinct from previous H5N1 sequences from Asia.  They also had the PB2 E627K polymorphism, which had not been previously reported in H5N1 from birds.  Since last year, all reported PB2 sequences from H5N1 infected birds has had E627K.

The 2005 wild bird flu outbreak at Qinghai Lake was followed by a large outbreak at Cheny Lake in southern Siberia.  Like Qinghai Lake, Chany Lake is located at the intersection of several major flyways connecting central Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  All of these areas reported H5N1 for the first time in the past 12 months and birds from these areas will be migrating back to southern Siberia for the summer.

The expected outbreaks at Qinghai Lake and Chany Lake will be predictive of a new wave of transmissions in the fall.  Russia reported over 2 dozen species that were H5N1 positive last year.  In Europe most of the reported infected birds have been mute swans.  However, the recent OIE report from Switzerland clearly shows that H5N1 infections in Europe involve many species of wild birds:

a total of nine wild birds (two tufted ducks [Aythya fuligula], one common coot [Fulica atra], one goosander [Mergus merganser], two common pochards [Aythya ferina], one little grebe [Tachybaptus ruficollis] and two ducks [Anatidae, species not determined]) have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.

There are currently twenty-three more cases (wild birds) positive for H5.

These data suggest that 2006 spring and summer H5N1 outbreaks, especially in southern Siberia, will be significant.

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