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H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Reaches Caspian Sea?

Recombinomics Commentary

August 16, 2005

The Russian government's consumer rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, expressed fears on Tuesday that the bird flu virus, which has hit the Urals and parts of Siberia, has reached Kalmykia, as domesticated birds have reportedly died on a Kalmyk farm.

The above comments on concerns that H5N1 wild bird flu has already reached Kalmyk in Europe, supports an AFP report from last week commenting on reports of bird flu at the Volga Delta, which is between Kalmyk and Kazahkstan (see map).

If the above reports are confirmed, the leading edge of the H5N1 in the Urals / northeast Kazahkstan region would be significantly advanced,  Birds that travel this path were expected to eventually reach this region just west of the Caspian Sea, but these latest reports suggest the H5N1 has already arrived.  Sightings between these points and the leading edge are anticipated, which would bring H5N1 into areas in Europe and Asia where it has never been reported.

Since the trail of dead migratory birds has gone from Qinghai Lake to Xinjiang to Novosibirsk, to the Urals and now to the Caspian Sea, there is little doubt that the H5N1 will spread throughout the Black, Caspian, and Mediterranian Seas region and on to the Middle East and North Africa.

The H5N1 wild bird flu has evolved away from the H5N1 in Vietnam, and the current pandemic vaccine being developed worldwide will probably have little effect.  Clinical trials are scheduled to begin next month in Russia and Hungary, but in the United States the titer was low against the 2004 H5N1 immunizing strain and there have been no announced plans to initiate a vaccine program targeting the H5N1 wild bird strain.

The rapid spread of the H5N1 ahead of the migration period, which is just beginning for many species at Qinghai Lake and Novosibirsk, suggest this strain will continue to spread in Asia, where it has already appeared in Mongolia and Tibet.

The dramatic increase in the H5N1 range will increase the likelihood of a recombination that will increase the efficiency of human-to-human transmission.  Although the strain appears to be sensitive to anti-virals amantadine and rimantadine, the initiation of a serious vaccine effort is long overdue.

The current program of targeting one H5N1 isolate is destined to fail, and the lack of a serious vaccine effort remains scandalous and hazardous to the world's health.


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