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H5N1 in Qinghai Similar to H5N1 in Southeastern China

Recombinomics Commentary
June 13, 2005

>>  Lab director Chen Huanlan says it is "not a new viral genotype" but similar to the viral strains found in southeast China last year …Guan Yi, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, says the finding raises questions about "how the virus got there." <<

Although the question of how the H5N1 in Qinghai got there is a good question, questions of where H5N1 is in 2005 is also of considerable importance.  The initial bird flu casualties at Qinghai Lake were bar headed geese, which winter in India and Bangladesh.  Both countries have filed statements in 2004 with OIE indicating they were H5N1 free, the declaration from India mere stated that the 250 pigeons that dies in northeast India, near Bangladesh tested negative for H5N1.  However, false negatives in northern and southern Vietnam were common as were false negatives in Thailand.  Thus, in the absence of a cause of death for the pigeons, the negative data remains suspect

Moreover, China has claimed to have been H5N1 free this year, but a ProMed report from Fujian province described dying domestic geese with symptoms that sounded remarkably like bird flu.  These geese were not tested, but merely replaced with geese from Jiangsu and Jiangxi, which also died with the same symptoms, suggesting H5N1 infections in eastern China are widespread.

In addition, recent reports described the HA cleavage site in isolates from foul in Gungdong Province, also in southeastern China.  Those isolates had cleavage sites that matched the common sequence in genotype Z, found throughout Asia in 2004, as well as a sequence that had lost a lysine, which matched isolated in Shanghai, Shantou, and Hunnan Provinces.  Another sequence in Guangdong was missing a lysine, which matched earlier isolates from Yunnan and Hong Kong isolates, as well as more recent isolates from Yunnan, Japan, in 2004 as well as northern Vietnam and possibly Thailand in 2005, again raising questions about the absence of H5N1 in eastern China

Although China, India, and Bangladesh all claim to be H5N1 free, the unprecedented bird deaths in migratory birds in Qinghai Lake, followed by the deaths of domestic geese in Xinjiang suggest monitoring of H5N1 in Asia has been, and remains, scandalously poor.

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