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Bird Flu in Migrating Bar Headed Geese from India

Recombinomics Commentary
May 22, 2005

>>  Staff with the Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve in Northwest China's Qinghai Province first found 19 dead geese at Bird Island near the western side of the water last Wednesday. Over the following four days larger number of dead geese were found on the island and in nearby areas.

By Sunday, a total of 178 bar-headed geese were found dead, Li said.

No death reports of other birds, such as brown-headed gulls and cormorants who inhabit the lake have been reported.

"The bar-headed goose migrates high over the Himalayas to spend winter on the Indian plains and breeds in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in May and June.  <<

The Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve hosts a wide variety of birds, yet initial reports indicated the only bar-headed geese were found dead.  The geese migrate from the northern plains of India to the Reserve in May and June.  The geese can migrate 1000 miles in a single day, so the deaths over several days in early May could have been linked to the stress associated with the migration.  H5N1 in the northern plains of India may be linked to deaths in pigs, people, and peacocks in the Uttar Pradesh region in February and the meningitis / menegococcal infections in New Delhi.  Earlier reports described H5N1 positive sera collected in 2002 from poultry workers in India.

H5N1 infections of geese are frequently asymptomatic.  H5N1 from 2004 isolates from fatal infections in patients in Thailand and Vietnam did not cause deaths of ducks,  Instead, these ducks could harbor high concentrations of H5N1 which were unusually stable.  H5N1 asymptomatic ducks were frequently found in Vietnam, raising the possibility that the lethal H5N1 in Qinghai were genetically different and could represent recombinants between the H5N1 brought from India and H5N1 in other asymptomatic ducks or geese in the reserve.

Thus, although no deaths of other birds were reported, a more extensive screening of the healthy ducks would be useful to determine the level of H5N1 in these birds.

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