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H5N1 in Northeastern Japan Signals Wild Bird Expansion?
Recombinomics Commentary 14:15
May 5, 2008
Hokkaido University, which had been commissioned by the ministry to examine the body of the whooper swan after it tested positive for H5N1 in a preliminary test, confirmed that the bird had been infected with the deadly bird flu virus.
The swan was found dead on the Notsuke Peninsula in the Hokkaido town of Betsukai -- known as a stopover for migratory birds such as whooper swans -- on April 24.
The above comments confirm H5N1 in the dead whooper swan in northeastern Hokkaido. This represents the closest H5N1 confirmed case to North America (see satellite map), and again raises concerns that H5N1 is migrating north toward the Aleutian Islands. A few days early dead whooper swans had tested H5N1 positive in Akita, also in northern Japan.
The confirmation of H5N1 in an H5 positive bird again raises transparency concerns. A soldier in Korea tested positive for H5 several weeks ago, and still has not been confirmed as H5N1 positive, even though all H5 cases in Korea have tested as H5N1, which has now been confirmed in more than thirty locations, representing the largest H5N1 outbreak in South Korea recorded to date. The delays in confirmation in South Korea are similar to the H5 positive dead gosling on Prince Edward Island (PEI) in 2006. Although three goslings had died suddenly, after exhibiting neurological problems, the H5 positive result was never confirmed. The size of the insert was withheld and the sample was held on PEI for 10 days. When it was finally sent to Canada’s National Labs in Winnipeg, he sample had degraded and the H5 PCR positive result was not confirmed.
The failure to confirm H5 on PEI raises concerns that H5N1 will also not be confirmed on the Aleutian Islands. Although it is well known that detection of clade 2.2 H5N1 in cloacal swabs or fecal samples is difficult, the public protocols for testing of a wide range of species in Alaska primarily use cloacal swabs or fecal samples. This lack of serious surveillance increases the likelihood that H5N1 will continue to circulate in North America below the surveillance screen and lead to a false sense of security by citizens in Canada and the United States.
The record levels of confirmed H5N1 in South Korea as well as India and Bangladesh suggest that H5N1 may be poised for significant geographical expansion in the 2008 / 2009 season.
Recombinomics Paper at Nature Precedings