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H5N1 Bird Flu Spread in Qinghai China

Recombinomics Commentary

May 5, 2006

Dead bar-headed geese were first spotted by local herdsmen in a wetland in Yushu County on April 23 and veterinarians who rushed to the site found 17 dead geese.

The epidemic area is 800 kilometres from the provincial capital Xining and 60 kilometres from the county town. There are no residents nor domestic fowls in the epidemic area, which is very high and cold, the ministry said.

The above detail suggests the H5N1 infections in bar head geese in Qinghai Province is spreading.  Recent reports indicate the body count has risen to 125 and all but two dead birds a bar head geese.  An earlier report described an H5N1 positive bar headed goose found in Gangcha county, which is where Qinghai Lake is located.

Although it is not clear how many of the 125 dead birds are in each county, the distance between the Yushu location and Qinghai Lake suggests the current outbreak may be widespread.  These latest numbers also raise questions about H5N1 reporting in India.

Bar-headed geese winter in the northern plains of India.  The geese can fly from India to Yushu county or Qinghai Lake in 24 hours.  Although there have been many reports of migratory bird deaths in India, H5N1 infections have only been acknowledge in domestic poultry in western India.

Issues of surveillance have surfaced in Europe also, where only a few positives were found in thousands of birds tested.  The data raised questions about sample storage procedures.  The finding of large numbers of bar headed geese in Qinghai province at the beginning of the migration season again raises questions about H5N1 in wild birds in India.

The increase in the number of dead bar headed geese suggests the number of dead birds may increase markedly in the next few weeks.  Last year the initial report described 178 dead birds. The number jumped to 519 in the OIE report a few weeks later, and the final tally exceeded 5000.

The reports coming out of Qinghai province suggest the number of birds will increase, and the deaths in May will be followed by outbreaks in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia in the upcoming months.

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