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Human H5N1 Confirmed In South Korea?

Recombinomics Commentary 11:00
May 14, 2008

The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will discuss the DNA test results in a meeting of its epidemiological committee Friday.

The meeting will focus on the possibility of human infection by the virus, which has been examined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts predict the nation will likely suffer bird flu throughout the year if it fails to exterminate what they call the "southern-type virus."

The above comments raise the possibility that the CDC in Atlanta has confirmed H5N1 in the soldier who was H5 positive.  There is little doubt that the soldier was H5N1 infected because South Korea did not deny that H5 was confirmed, and instead focused on a failure to confirm N1.  Thus, samples may have been sent to the CDC for further analysis, although the case has not been listed by WHO as a confirmed case.

The above comments also refer to a “southern type virus” which appears to be related to some homology with H5N1 in Vietnam.  These comments suggest a new clade may have emerged in South Korea which has genetic information from Vietnam (where clade 2.3 currently dominates) and clade 2.2, which is the Uvs Lake strain which was responsible for  outbreaks in 2006/2007 in South Korea and Japan.  This season Japan has reported H5N1 in whooper swans in northern Japan, but has not commented on the genetic composition (see satellite map).

This withholding of information by South Korea (and now the US CDC), as well as Japan may be related to recent comments by WHO on the necessity to share new research information.  In 2005, the H5N1 in northern Vietnam was clade 1, but had acquired (via recombination) the HA cleavage site from South Korea / Japan in 2003 / 2004 which had deleted an R (RERR_KKR).

Thus, there is a precedent for recombination between H5N1 in Korea and Vietnam, which may explain the recent sequence data from South Korea.  This information was not included in OIE reports from South Korea, which have not been released since April 15.  Similarly, OIE reports from Japan do not describe the HA cleavage site, which is GERRRKKR in clade 2.2, but is RERRRK_R in clade 2.3.

The withholding of this information remains hazardous to the world’s health.

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