Recombinomics | Elegant Evolution

Home Founder What's New In The News Contact Us

Paradigm Shift

Viral Evolution

Intervention Monitoring

Vaccine Screening

Vaccine Development

Expression Profiling

Drug Discovery

Custom Therapies


Pandemic Concerns for H5N1 Wild Bird Flu in Oulu Finland

Recombinomics Commentary

August 26, 2005

The ministry said the case involved a gull near the city of Oulu, some 370 miles north of Helsinki. Final test results were expected in three weeks………

Riitta Heinonen at the ministry said it was possible, but unlikely, that the case involved the H5N1 strain, the one circulating in Asia and in eastern Russia, which scientists are concerned about. There has not so far been a recorded case of the H5N1 strain in Europe……

"A monitoring program in Finland has revealed a preliminary find of a bird flu virus in a gull," the ministry said in a statement…..

The above comments strongly suggest that H5N1 has entered Oulu, Finland.  Although some reports cited various numbers of sick or dead seagulls, one report specifically said that fifty seagulls had died.  The discovery that one of the dead gulls was positive for bird flu points strongly toward H5N1 wild bird flu.

Migratory waterfowl are usually resistant to avian influenza.  The H5N1 isolates at Qinghai Lake in China in May came from bar headed geese, brown headed gulls, and great black headed gulls.  The usual ability to kill waterfowl was reinforced by outbreaks in Xinjiang Province, where ducks and geese died.  More ducks died at Chany Lake ands the H5N1 isolated from those birds was closely related to the H5N1 at Qinghai Lake.  Similarly, bar headed geese and whooper swans were H5N1 positive at Erhel Lake in Mongolia.

The spread of H5N1 across southern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan (see map) has focus attention on these birds which are about to cross the Ural and enter Russian Europe.  However, in addition to waterfowl that summer in southern Siberia, other birds summer in northern Siberia.  In the latest OIE report from Russia, the migration of birds from northern Siberia to southern Siberia was mentioned.  The August 20 migration date was supported by new outbreaks in Siberia at locations north of the east-west migration page (see map).

These outbreaks indicate the birds in northern Siberia are also H5N1 positive, and they are now starting to migrate south, so the appearance of H5N1 in northern Finland at this time is not surprising.  Although H5 has been isolated in southern Siberia in the past at Chany Lake and Primorie, the earlier H5's were closely related to H5 in Europe.  The more recent isolates have been H5N1, which is distinct from H5N1 in eastern China and southeast Asia, but clearly closely related to the H5N1 Asia version of H5N1.  This strain has a multi-basic cleavage site, and is quite lethal to domestic poultry.  Experimental chickens died in 20 hours after infection with H5N1 from Qinghai Lake.

H5N1 in Scandinavian countries would be particularly dangerous.  In 2003 there was an outbreak of H7N7 in the Netherlands. Over 30 million birds were culled.  However H5N7 isolates were found, indicting H7N7 had reassorted with H5N2.  Reassortment, or swapping of whole genes, happens during dual infections, when the same host is infected with two different viruses.  The H5N7 isolated in 2003 from a mallard duck in Denmark was novel and signaled new genetic combinations between H5 and H7 viruses. 

Dual infections can also lead to recombination, where portions of genes are swapped.  H7 is dangerous to humans because it can be easily transmitted human to human, which is a property that is lacking in H5N1.  However, a dual infection involving H5N1 and H7N7 could lead to recombination where H5N1 acquires the human receptor binding domain on H7.  The H5N1 at Qinghai Lake has already acquired mammalian polymorphisms from European swine, providing further evidence for dual infections and recombination.

Thus, having H5N1 in a region that has had recent problems with H7N7 is cause for concern.  Similarly, the migration of H5N1 from northern Siberia to Finland would suggest that similar migrations between northern Siberia and Alaska are possible and/or likely.  H5N1 in Alaska would lead to H5N1 in British Columbia, which had a H7N3 outbreak in 2004.  This outbreak also led to infections in poultry workers and again signals a potential dangerous situation involving co-circulation of H5 and H7. 

These combinations provide more opportunities for the generation of efficiently transmitted H5N1, which could touch off a pandemic that dwarfs the great pandemic of 1918.


Media Resources

Home | Founder | What's New | In The News | Contact Us

© 2005 Recombinomics.  All rights reserved.