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Did H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Kill Fifty Seagulls in Oulu Finland?

Recombinomics Commentary

August 26, 2005

Finland's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said on Friday afternoon that the first possible cases of bird flu may have been found in seagulls in the northern city of Oulu. About 50 dead seagulls have been found on city beaches.

Fifty dead seagulls may signal the migration of H5N1 wild bird flu out of northern Siberia.  In the latest OIE report, Russia had warned that birds from northern Siberia would begin migrating south around August 20.  This concern was supported by H5 in Siberia north (Kanti-Mansi and Tomsk) of the east-west line of outbreaks in southern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan (see map).

The H5N1 wild bird flu spread was first noted at Qinghai Lake in China in May (see May map).  Over 6000 migratory birds died and 5 species were named in the OIE report.  The sequence of 16 isolates were published and the isolates were very similar, but distance from other H5N1 isolates.  Since 189 species have been identified at Qinghai Lake, H5N1 could transmit to a variety of species and then spread in many directions because the two major Asian flyways intersect at Qinghai Lake.

Some birds fly further north to summer.  One major site is Chany Lake in Novosibirsk.  The two outbreaks in Xinjiang in June (see June map), may have been caused by birds migrating to Chany Lake.  In July, there was a major outbreak of H5N1 at Chany Lake (see July map).  Isolates from Chany Lake were closely related to those found at Qinghai Lake.

Additional birds may have gone further north to summer, and now these birds would be migrating to warmer areas.  This migration from northern Siberia may account for the dead gulls in northern Finland.  These deaths may signal more outbreaks in Asia and North America.  Initial results should be available soon. 

The H5N1 in China, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia has the unusual property of killing migratory waterfowl.  The sequence is also quite distinctive, including the HA cleavage site which is routinely sequenced and is diagnostic for HPAI.  The sequence is very characteristic of the H5N1 from Asia, so a match of the cleavage site sequence would indicate that the dead birds were H5N1 positive.

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