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Bird Flu Quarantine in Altai Territory in Russia

Recombinomics Commentary

July 27, 2005

Russia's Altai territory imposed a quarantine after the information about the bird flu outbreak in the Novosibirsk region was confirmed.

"The information about the bird flu outbreak in the neighboring Novosibirsk region has been confirmed, so we are sending cables to mayors and district heads today," first deputy head of the regional veterinary department Anatoly Lapin told Itar-Tass.

Lapin said quarantine measures had been launched at poultry farms, but he did not rule out that they may be extended to the entire territory.

The above comments on the quarantine in Russia's Altai territory is not a surprise.  The territory is in southern Siberia adjacent to Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China.  Thus, it has a bird outbreak to the northwest, around the Chany Lake area, and three outbreaks to the south in Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces in China.  All outbreaks have been linked to migratory birds, which is consitent with sequence data from H5N1 isolates in Qinghai Lake.

The sequences in these birds have regions in common with isolates in Europe, including H5N2 from birds and various mammalian isolates.  One change in particular is striking.  The PB2 mutation E627K has never been detected previously in an H5N1 isolate from a bird.  However, it is present in all human isolates.  This strict species barrier was broken at Qinghai Lake, where all bird isolates have E627E.  It has appeared previously in humans infected with bird serotypes H5N1 and H7N7 and in almost all cases the infection has been fatal.

Other regions of the Qinghai sequence match isolates from two bird reserves in southern Russia, the Chany Lake area in the Novosibursk region, and the Primorie reserve in southeastern Russia, near China, Japan, and Korea.  May of the regions of the Qinghai genes also match regions in genes from isolates from Japan and Korea as well as some isolates in eastern China and southeast Asia, including Vietnam and Thailand, where the largest number of human cases have been reported.

In August and September birds will leave Russia and head for Europe, India, and eastern Asia, raising concerns that the highly lethal H5N1 will spread throughout Asia, much of Europe, and beyond.

Thus, the quarantine in Altai is warranted, and other countries worldwide should increase surveillance of migrating birds for signs of lethal bird flu. 

In the past influenza infections in migratory birds were largely asymptomatic.  However the die-off at Qinghai Lake was without precedent, and the subsequent outbreaks in China and Russia suggest a trail of dead birds may emerge in the next several weeks.

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