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Sumatra H5N1 Sequences Remain Sequestered in WHO Database

Recombinomics Commentary

May 31, 2006

Malik Peiris, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong who sequenced the virus, declined to comment on any mutations, saying that making sequences public is not his call. "Our job as a WHO reference lab is to report back to the originating country and the WHO," he says. The WHO also declined to give any details. "We will leave that to the government of Indonesia, the owner of the data," says Bjorge.

The above comments, from tomorrow's Nature news report, "Pandemic 'dry run' is cause for concern" by Declan Butler, continue to pass the buck on the release of H5N1 bird flu sequence.  Here the buck is passed from Hong Kong to WHO to Indonesia.

There is no reason for this buck passing to continue.  WHO was given authority to investigate diseases that cross international borders and threaten neighbors, and H5N1 transmitting through at least two sets of relatives, would qualify.  At this time, sequences (HA and NA) from the first confirmed cases has been released.  It was placed on deposit at Los Alamos on August 1, 2005 and released by the CDC on March 25, 2006 after the United States selected it as a new target fro a pandemic vaccine.  The HA sequence had both a novel cleavage site as well as a novel glycosylation site.  Reports have indicated that almost all human cases from West Java (Jakarta and surrounding areas including Tangerang, Bekasi, and Bangdung) have this novel cleavage site, which has not been reported in bird isolates.

The new isolates from Sumatra appear to have the wild type H5N1 cleavage site found in poultry isolates in Indonesia.  The limited description suggested they also were resistant to amantadine, which has been found in some poultry isolates.  However, there were no comments on PB2 E627K, which has been found in other human isolates in a number of countries and is associated with a poor outcome. Seven of the eight members of the Sumatra cluster died, raising questions about the role of E627K.

These questions can be answered by the sequestered sequences.  Permission was granted for the one sequence, and it remains unclear why similar permission cannot be granted fro the sequestered sequences.

These sequences should be released immediately for detailed analysis.

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